COVID-19 updates: Local patient count falls but U.S. death rate remains stubborn

Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 8:19 AM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Recent data from our local hospitals is showing a good trend for COVID-19 hospitalizations.

In the past three weeks, total COVID-19 patients at our hospitals have been cut almost in half.

This is where they stand now:

  • 73 patients at University Hospital, which just two weeks ago had 149.
  • 61 patients at Augusta University Health, which three weeks ago had 124.
  • 46 patients at Doctors Hospital, which had 102 just 16 days ago.

The local numbers peaked in mid-January.

One result of the decline in the COVID surge is loosened visitation policies.

After tightening its policy several weeks ago, University Hospital will allow one guest a day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Mothers about to give birth can have one support person and a visitor.

Everyone must wear a mask.

But while hospitalizations are showing declines in our region, coronavirus deaths in the United States have surpassed 450,000. The number of daily deaths remains stubbornly high at more than 3,000 a day.

Infectious disease specialists expect deaths to start dropping soon, after new cases hit a peak right around the beginning of the year.

The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says new COVID-19 deaths could ebb as early as next week.

But there’s also the risk that improving trends in infections and hospitalizations could be offset by people relaxing and coming together — including this Sunday to watch the Super Bowl.

Teachers keep pressure on 2-state governors

The governors of both Georgia and South Carolina are getting a lot of pressure from teacher groups to add educators to the list of people eligible to get COVID-19 vaccinations.

Georgia is still in Phase 1a-plus of the vaccine rollout, which includes health care workers, first responders and people over 65.

“Georgia’s vaccine supply continues to not meet the demand,” Kemp said Thursday during a tour of a vaccination site in suburban Atlanta. “Our demand is drastically outpacing the supply that we have in the state.”

Meanwhile, educators in the Palmetto State are pushing Gov. Henry McMaster to get on the vaccination list.

On Thursday, he said teachers will stay in Phase 1b of the rollout with no extra priority status.

A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study says it is safe to open schools without employees getting vaccinated first.

That’s why McMaster says he wants everyone to return to the classroom five days a week.

But a group of lawmakers is introducing a resolution to require school staff to be vaccinated within 30 days before teaching full time in person.

They say that’s the only way teachers will go back to school.

“I would prefer not to have to do this. I’d prefer the governor did this on his own; it would be much quicker that way. That’s not going to happen based on what he said,” state Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said.

Against rules, Ga. hospital vaccinated worker families

A northwest Georgia hospital vaccinated hundreds of relatives of employees against COVID-19, another example of a hospital not following Georgia’s rules about who’s eligible to get the medication.

Floyd Medical Center CEO Kurt Stuenkel tells WAGA-TV that he decided to make the vaccine available to people living with employees of the Rome hospital.

That policy has since been reversed.

The state Department of Public Health says it’s investigating, but hasn’t decided on any punishment. The state earlier suspended supplies of vaccine to an Elberton clinic that gave shots to teachers.

Also in the news ...

  • Augusta University Health’s new vaccination hub is getting ready to open Monday. On Thursday, the hospital put up a sign for the new clinic at the former Stein Mart on Washington Road. The Augusta National Golf Club is partnering with AU Health by donating millions of dollars and allowing the hospital to use the shopping center as a vaccination site.
  • The South Carolina Senate has officially confirmed Dr. Edward Simmer as the new director of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. He was previously the chief medical officer for the Tri-Care Health Plan and a led a Navy hospital while serving for 30 years. He’ll be the agency’s first director to hold a medical degree in 35 years. The agency has not had a permanent director in eight months.
  • All McDuffie County schools will continue on a blended learning model for face-to-face students amid high COVID-19 transmission. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, McDuffie County is an emerging county of interest and one with high transmission indicators.
  • A study found social distancing in the classroom may be more effective than weekly rapid coronavirus testing. Researchers found social distancing reduced transmission by an estimated 88 percent, while rapid testing cut infections by 35 percent in primary schools and at least 50 percent in high schools. The study also notes when everyone wears a mask, infections are cut by 40 percent.
  • With blood donations down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sardis Police Department is hosting a blood drive today. The drive will be between 3 and 7 p.m. at police headquarters on Charles Perry Avenue. Masks are required, and you’ll need to bring your photo ID.
  • Organizers are postponing this year’s Breakfast at the Gallops due to COVID-19. The Aiken Thoroghbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum was supposed to host the event next month. Officials say they look forward to hosting the breakfast next year.
  • Johnson & Johnson asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve the world’s first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. J&J’s vaccine was safe and offered strong protection against moderate to severe COVID-19, according to preliminary results from a massive international study.
  • British scientists are going to test whether COVID-19 vaccines can be mixed and matched. The vaccines that are rolling out now require two doses of the same vaccine. In the study, participants will get one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine and one Pfizer dose.

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