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Skyrocketing COVID cases send local hospitals into ‘disaster mode’

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 6:53 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 27, 2021 at 7:49 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Our local hospitals currently caring for 358 people that are sick enough to be inpatients. And at least 84 of those people are in intensive care.

University Hospital hit their pandemic low just last month on July 6 with three COVID patients.

Cases have been climbing since then, to 124 patients, which is the most the hospital has seen since late January before the vaccine was even available to most of the public. Health officials say they expect the Labor Day peak to be worse than the January peak.

You don’t even have to go inside the hospitals to see the issue. You can tell by the number of ambulances waiting outside the emergency rooms.

Augusta University Health says at this point, it’s just trying to make as much room as possible for patients. The hospital has converted the family medicine clinic across the street to an ER overflow area.

Doctors say this wave has some similarities to the January peak, but a lot of differences, too.

“It is not business as usual” said Dr. Phillip Coule, AU Health chief medical officer.

“Disaster mode” is how he describes the state of AU Health right now.

And things aren’t much better at University Hospital.

“Lately, our number of new admissions are outpacing the discharges. So we, like what the other hospitals in town, are starting to see more and more patients” said Dr. Barry Jenkins, University Hospital’s chief medical officer.

Both hospitals are at capacity and under severe emergency medical services diversion.

“We’re not functioning like normal, we don’t have capacity we don’t have any ICU beds left,” said Coule.

The number of COVID patients is creeping up toward the pandemic high of around 150 patients back in January. Both AU Health and University currently have more than 100 COVID inpatients. But it’s not just COVID patients filling beds.

“This has kind of been the perfect storm of a huge surge of COVID patients on top of a number of other patients that are sick but without COVID,” said Jenkins.

They’re also seeing more heart attacks, strokes, and trauma patients with health care needs that were delayed due to the last surge.

“We’ve gotten to the point where those can’t be delayed anymore, and that’s continuing to put a strain on the system,” said Coule.

University has significantly scaled back elective surgeries. And they don’t have the staff to open the Summerville campus as a COVID hospital like before. AU is taking up specialized care areas to make room for more beds.

It’s a new wave, with no near end in sight.

“Unfortunately, we’re predicting that it’s going to get worse” said Coule.

Local inpatients

Here’s a look at Thursday’s inpatients statistics for local hospitals:

  • University Hospital: 124 COVID inpatients, up five from Wednesday. Of those 124 inpatients, 109 have not been vaccinated. Of the 12 on ventilators, 10 are unvaccinated, and of the 15 in intensive care, 12 are unvaccinated.
  • Augusta University Health: 106 COVID inpatients, 102 of whom are unvaccinated. Of the 51 patients in intensive care and 42 on ventilators, all are unvaccinated.
  • Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center: 18 inpatients, up one from Wednesday. Eight are in intensive care.
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 44 COVID inpatients, up three from Wednesday. Nine are in intensive care.
  • Doctors Hospital: 66 COVID inpatients, up one from Wednesday.

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