Kids are among hospitals’ flood of patients in COVID wave

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 8:36 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2021 at 5:38 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - As a new spike of COVID-19 cases — including seven children — swamps local hospitals with patients, Aiken Regional Medical Center is banning visitors for most patients and University Hospital has only one unit without a COVID patient.

The pediatric numbers are a sign of how the delta variant of coronavirus takes a different path than its predecessors.

With the initial coronavirus, the populations hit hardest included older people and those with health problems.

But the super-contagious delta variant also takes a toll on younger people.

Local school officials are taking the danger to students seriously.

Out of an abundance of caution, three classes of elementary students in Waynesboro are in quarantine, according to the Burke County School System.

Due to four positive cases reported in a three-class team in one grade level at Blakeney Elementary and after several students were sent home with symptoms, the Georgia Department of Public Health recommended quarantining the three-class team, a district spokeswoman said.

She said she wouldn’t characterize it as an “outbreak.”

Meanwhile, the Jefferson County School System expanded its mask mandate to middle school students as the community there sees a surge in COVID cases.

Superintendent Molly Howard said the district added a mask mandate for all middle school students while they are indoors. There was already a mask mandate for high school students and employees at all schools. The policy will leave masks as strongly recommended for elementary students because nearly all of them have been wearing masks.

How hospitals are faring

On Tuesday, Georgia reported just under 4,400 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours as the state inches toward a million cases since the start of the pandemic.

South Carolina saw 1,900 new cases Tuesday, slightly less than the day before. The Palmetto State has seen 527,000 cases to date.

As one barometer of the increase, University Hospital had 91 COVID-19 inpatients Tuesday morning. That was up from 87 on Monday and three about a month ago before the delta variant started spreading.

Another indicator: In the peak week of the pandemic in January, the hospital had 385 positive COVID-19 tests. Last week, it had had 478.

Although the inpatient total at University isn’t quite reaching the nearly 150 the medical center saw during the peak of the post-holiday surge in January, the numbers represent a sharp spike.

At University, most of the patients are in the 5 North/South and 6 North/South units at the main hospital in Augusta, according to hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester. The hospital has returned those units to negative-air-pressure units.

The remainder of the patients are scattered throughout the hospital in negative-air-pressure rooms when possible, Sylvester said.

Only one unit at University doesn’t have a COVID-19 patient Tuesday, according to Sylvester.

Nine of the patients at University are in intensive care, “which is a high number,” she said.

Other Augusta hospital inpatient counts from Tuesday include:

  • Augusta University Health: 77, up from 69 Monday. Seven hospitalizations were kids at Children’s Hospital of Georgia.
  • Doctors: 40, up from 39 Monday.
  • Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center: 44, up from 43 Monday.

A graph using figures from the Georgia Department of Public Health shows how steep the rise in COVID inpatients is. The chart, shown below, illustrates hospital inpatients in the Georgia portion of the CSRA, dating back to April 2020.

Sylvester noted that University is holding a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Thursday. Although no appointment may be necessary, you can sign up at Aug. 12:

For other vaccination options in the CSRA, visit

Restrictions at Aiken Regional

The updated visitor policy at Aiken Regional comes just a few days after the hospital had restricted visitors to one per patient per day.

Other local hospitals, including University, Doctors, Augusta University Health and Jefferson, have updated their visitor policies in recent days, but Aiken Regional’s change appears to be the strictest.

Aiken Regional says that starting Thursday, visitation at all its facilities, both inpatient and outpatient settings, will be restricted to the following guidelines:

  • Emergency department: No visitors are permitted.
  • Inpatient areas: No visitors are permitted.
  • Patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, or who are pending COVID-19 test results, will not be permitted visitors.
  • Labor and delivery/postpartum: New mothers are permitted one adult visitor (deemed a support person) who is permitted to stay overnight. Visitors are not permitted for diagnostic testing.
  • Patients with physical, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and patients with cognitive impairments can be accompanied by one adult visitor who is permitted to stay overnight.
  • Intensive care unit: No visitors are permitted.
  • Progressive care unit: No visitors are permitted.
  • A patient at the end of life is permitted two visitors and a clergyman. An exception may be made on a case-by-case basis.
  • Pediatric patients can be accompanied by one adult/guardian throughout the entire treatment; siblings are not permitted.
  • Outpatient testing/surgery: No visitors are permitted.
  • Behavioral health: No visitors are permitted.

Of the limited visitors able to enter the hospital, individuals must be at least 18 years of age; an exception may be made if the patient is at the end of life.

To ensure social distancing and limit potential exposures, visitors are limited to the patient’s room and are not to gather in hallways or visit the cafeteria.

“Our team continues to monitor the local seven-day moving average of reported COVID-19 cases in Aiken and surrounding counties, provided by South Carolina DHEC,” said Jim O’Loughlin, chief executive officer at Aiken Regional. “It’s our responsibility as a healthcare facility to do our part to lessen the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.”

He said he hopes that if there’s a continual decrease in positive COVID-19 cases, the hospital will be able to loosen its visitation policy.

As of Monday, Aiken Regional had 35 COVID-19 inpatients.

The hospital pointed out that it offers ePatient note services. This service is an easy way to send an encouraging note to a friend or family member in the hospital. Complete the form at the following link and the message will be hand-delivered to the patient’s room:

Also in the news ...

  • S.C. STATS: The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental has updated its COVID-19 dashboard for the upcoming school year. The dashboard was used during the last school year, but updates ended as of June 18 as the school year ended. Beginning Tuesday, the dashboard will be updated for the 2021-2022 school year and will include cases from Aug. 1-8. Officials say only those individuals who physically attend school on a regular basis will be included in the counts. Students who participate in virtual instruction but are on campus regularly for extracurricular activities will also be included. The dashboard will be updated on Tuesday and Friday afternoons.

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