The Georgia Department of Public Health reported two more deaths among COVID-19 patients in Glynn County Wednesday, raising the county’s total to eight.

One was a 68-year-old Black woman; the other was a 75-year-old White woman.

They were preceded by a 90-year-old White man, a 76-year-old Black man, a 90-year-old White man, an 83-year-old White woman, a 74-year-old Black man and an 84-year-old White woman.

All but one, the 74-year-old, had underlying conditions. Health department personnel have previously declined to give information on underlying conditions, citing HIPAA privacy protections.

None of the identities of virus victims was made public.

Deaths are still relatively low in Glynn County, but there could be more to come following the recent surges in newly reported cases.

“Noticeable increases in hospitalizations typically lag behind the increases in reported cases by several weeks,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, Coastal Health District director. “People who have bad clinical courses and ultimately die often have protracted hospital stays before succumbing.”

Those two factors would contribute to a delay in reported deaths, he said. He also believes healthcare workers, in general, have learned to provide better care for COVID-19 symptoms.

In addition to the recent deaths, the health department reported another 91 cases among county residents Wednesday for a total of 1,322 cases since the outbreak started.

Recent rapid increases in cases have led some health officials to name Glynn County an area of concern and potential COVID-19 hotspot.

As of 3 p.m. Wednesday, the health department reported 350 cases in the last week alone, 851 in the last two weeks.

Camden County reported another 21 cases since Tuesday for a total of 233 since the outbreak began in March, while McIntosh reported three new cases and 71 total.

Camden has also reported notable increases in the number of cases, which rose by 58.5 percent in the last week and by 119.8 percent in the last two weeks.

As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital was caring for 36 COVID-19 positive inpatients while the Camden campus held four. Tuesday was a peak for the Brunswick campus at 40 inpatients, four of whom were released by Wednesday afternoon.

“The growth in the number of inpatients has increased pretty precipitously over the last few weeks,” SGHS President and CEO Michael Scherneck told the hospital’s executive board Wednesday afternoon.

Glenn Gann, vice president and administrator of the Camden hospital, said more inpatients have been admitted and not necessarily for COVID-19 symptoms. The St. Marys facility can handle some overflow from the Brunswick hospital, he said.

The hospital dealt with relatively few COVID-19 positive inpatients during the first few months of the pandemic, he said.

“That allowed us to take a look at where beds are available and where we need beds and how to keep some of the elective procedures going,” Scherneck said.

He said all incoming inpatients will be tested COVID-19 starting this week.

It’s unlikely the virus will cease to become a problem anytime soon, Scherneck said. In conjunction with a recent increase in inpatients for a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, the Brunswick hospital could be facing a space shortage.

He suggested the SGHS begin looking at accelerating the opening of the fifth floor of its new wing to accommodate positive patients.

Mid-August is the original completion date, but Tripp Stephens, vice president of support services, said the date could be moved up to July 27.

Acquiring furniture and equipment has proven to be an issue, he said, but there are temporary measures to get it open before the permanent furnishings arrive.

“Maybe with some rental beds,” Stephens said. “Our beds won’t be in until Aug. 25.”

The hospital doesn’t currently have the staff to man the new floor either, Scherneck said, asking that it be made a priority.

“We’re not going to have any fewer patients in the next four to five to six weeks. We’re going to see a rise, so it would be appropriate to staff accordingly,” Scherneck said.

It’s not an issue at present, but Scherneck said the increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients and the rising number of inpatients across the board at both Brunswick and Camden campuses mean the SGHS may have to call on the state health department or other healthcare facilities in the future for assistance.

The hospital is not the only health agency taking note of new cases. The Glynn County Health Department recently went back to offering free COVID-19 tests five days a week. Anyone interested must still make an appointment.

The McIntosh County Health Department is also now offering free testing on Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment only.

Call 912-230-9744 or go to covid19.dph.ga.gov to schedule an appointment at either location. The call center is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

“Community transmission of COVID-19 is still high in Glynn County, and testing is an important tool for slowing the spread of infection,” Davis said. “Testing enables us to identify positive cases, and then those people know to self-isolate and avoid spreading the infection even farther.”

Turnaround time for the department’s tests is two to four days, he said.

“With an increased demand for testing all around the state, it’s possible we could see a slowdown at the laboratory with an influx of more tests to process,” Davis said. “But for now, two to four days is still the norm.”

Residents are advised to wear masks in public places, wash their hands regularly, use hand sanitizer if necessary, cover coughs and sneezes and avoid crowded spaces when possible.

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