Hospitals see COVID decline, but holidays have them worried

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 12:51 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - Local hospitals continue to a see a decline in the spike of COVID cases that began in late summer, fueled by the super-contagious delta variant of coronavirus.

They only hope it stays that way.

University Hospital, a bellwether of the severity of each wave of the pandemic, reported 28 COVID inpatients Tuesday. That’s down from a Sept. 7 peak of 167 during the delta wave.

It’s still not as low as the single digits at the beginning of July before delta gained dominance, but local officials will take it.

Across the whole Georgia portion of the CSRA, there were 69 COVID inpatients as of Tuesday, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. At the peak on Sept. 7, the region had 398 inpatients, exactly matching the count at the previous peak of the pandemic on Jan. 19.

Across the Savannah River, South Carolina’s COVID-19 cases have been on the decline since early September, as well.

University Hospital spokeswoman Rebecca Sylvester said the health system’s physicians, nurses and staff have cared for a total of 3,426 patients with COVID-19 who required hospitalization since their first coronavirus patient in March 2020. Of those, caregivers recovered and discharged 2,856 patients.

What’s got them worried now us the approach of cooler weather and holiday season, which will bring more people indoors.

“We continue to implore upon people to get the vaccine and boosters when they are eligible,” Sylvester said. “We have the people who have gotten vaccinated to thank for the decline in cases. If more people get vaccinated, there is the possibility that COVID-19 cases will become somewhat of a rarity.”

Looking ahead to large holiday gatherings and more indoor activities, Dr. Helmut Albrecht, an infectious disease specialist at Prisma Health in South Carolina, says big COVID-19 spikes are still possible.

The decline in cases “doesn’t mean we’re not having thousands of cases in the U.S. every day, and we’ll have a couple thousand more,” said Albrecht.

South Carolina’s 54.8% rate of fully vaccinated people and Georgia’s rate of 50% have doctors worried about what may happen as we see a rise in large gatherings. Experts say 70% to 80% is needed for herd immunity.

“It’s still low enough that we could have a disastrous surge,” said Albrecht.

Doctors say the drop in masking and social distancing won’t help.

“We see a lot more burnout from doing all the right things, so we will see an uptick in infection,” said Albrecht.

To prepare for safe holiday gatherings, Albrecht recommends getting vaccinated now if you haven’t already, or getting a booster shot if you are eligible.

“Think about others,” Albrecht said. “That’s what Christmas should be about. It’s not about how many presents you get, but what we can do for our community, and vaccination is clearly the way to go.”

Cashing in on vaccination

As a reminder, the city of Augusta has doubled its COVID vaccination incentive, allowing people to get $200 if they get two shots at city-authorized clinics.

Previously, the incentive was a $100 gift card upon completion of the second shot. Now people will get $100 for the first shot and $100 for the second shot.

A drive-thru clinic will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Augusta Mall.

Also offering the incentive will be these walk-in clinics:

  • Nov. 4 from 4-6 p.m. at the Warren Road Community Center, 300 Warren Road
  • Nov. 6 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Robert Howard Community Center, 103 Diamond Lakes Way
  • Dec. 2 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Jamestown Community Center and Park, 3647 Karleen Road
  • Dec. 4 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Carrie J. Mays Family Life Center, 1014 11th Ave.

From reports by WRDW/WAGT and WIS