COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the Brunswick area.

“Unfortunately, yes, our communities are experiencing a significant rise in COVID-19 patients similar to what communities throughout the nation are experiencing,” said Southeast Georgia Health System President and CEO Michael Scherneck. “And, as such, hospitalizations are increasing as well.”

As of Tuesday, the Brunswick hospital had 50 inpatients infected with COVID-19. The hospital in St. Marys had 14.

The number of inpatients peaked at both facilities with a cumulative figure of 90-plus in mid and late July following a summer spike in cases.

By every metric, the daily average of new cases, cases per 100,000 residents, hospitalizations, the percentage of positive tests and the health district’s community transmission index, Glynn County is on a gradual upward slope.

The percentage of Glynn County residents testing positive for COVID-19 is higher than it was during the mid-July peak when the area became a hotspot for the highly contagious respiratory disease.

Testing is also up over past months with 12.8 percent coming back positive last week.

The hospital had to take measures to accommodate the influx of inpatients during the last spike, such as expediting construction of a new wing, keeping some people in ambulances until the emergency room could catch up, and limiting certain non-essential medical services.

SGHS officials say they learned from the past and are prepared for a second surge.

Better policies and procedures to keep staff and patients safe, a greater stockpile of supplies, renovated patient rooms to meet the infection prevention standards required for COVID-19, faster test results and a wider variety of treatment options and generally more experienced organization and leadership are at the SGHS’ disposal, but Scherneck said he’s now more worried about the human cost.

“We are ready as far as personal protective equipment and medical supplies are concerned, but the health and well-being of our team members is a major concern,” Scherneck said.

Hospital staff has worked hard to rise to the challenge, he said, but growing infection rates across the country have “created an untenable demand for bedside nurses and our health system has not been spared in this regard.”

“We’re fortunate that the state has been able to assist us by providing some nurses, and we’ve contracted with agencies to bring in additional staff, but we are still experiencing a nursing shortage,” Scherneck said.

A COVID-19 vaccine will likely make a difference, but the question remains as to how long the healthcare workers will have to hold out while the vaccine is distributed.

Coastal Georgia residents in the first phase of the vaccination program overloaded the local health departments’ phone systems last week, prompting the Coastal Health District to stop taking appointments in all eight coastal counties.

“We certainly hope not to limit services as we know that our community counts on us to provide essential care,” Scherneck said. “We were fortunate to be able to open our new patient tower last summer, which provided us with an additional 32 beds; however, staffing will continue to be a concern.”

To minimize the chance of spreading COVID-19, residents should wash their hands regularly, wear a face mask in public, keep a six-foot distance from people other than members of their household and stay home if feeling sick.

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