I-TEAM: Rural county near Augusta emerging as COVID-19 hotspot in Georgia

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

(Source: GA DPH)

HANCOCK COUNTY, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Hancock County is made up of quaint towns and farmland. Most of the area, which sits about 70 miles west of Augusta, is now bracing for a very big problem.

Eleven nursing home patients have now died in one Hancock County nursing home. We analyzed statewide data and found Hancock now ranks sixth in the state for the most COVID-19 cases per capita.

To put these numbers in perspective, Hancock County surpasses all of our local counties and all metro Atlanta counties for most COVID-19 cases per capita. Nearly all of the state’s top counties for COVID-19 are rural and poor.

“In Hancock County, we know there has been a spike in the cases with covid 19," Michael Hokanson of the North Central Health District, said. "There are multiple outbreaks in long term care facilities in that county, and those long-term care facilities make up about half of the total cases with Hancock County.”

State records show 11 patients have died from the coronavirus at Sparta Health and Rehabilitation. Nearly 65 patients and staff are positive in the nursing home.

Up the road, about 6 minutes away at Providence at Sparta Home, nearly 30 patients and staff are positive and one has died.

Hancock County now ranks sixth in the state for most COVID-19 cases per capita. The other top counties for cases per capita are in Southwest Georgia near Albany. The outbreak in Albany remains one of the largest in the nation.

We analyzed census data and found African-Americans make up the majority of the population in all of the top six counties for COVID-19. All six also have higher poverty rates than the state average as well.

“We know in a lot of the rural counties in Georgia, where there is a large African-American population, part of what we see there is a very similar pattern when it comes to health factors," Hokanson said. "One of those being heart condition obesity things like that and these are things that can more likely to any disease but also COVID-19.”

And so does limited access to healthcare. The county hospital closed here years ago.

"Just because the state is reopening doesn’t mean this is over," Hokanson said. "We want to make sure everyone is safe out there, but public health cannot be out on every single street corner making sure every individual is doing what they can."

Testing sites are up, and so is concern over the health of this small community.

We did talk to the chairman of the Board of Commissioners. She told us they are very concerned but everything is being done that can be done. She denied our request for an interview but said please continue to pray for the county.

Sparta Health and Rehab told us it has implemented numerous measures to protect the health of patients and staff.

A spokesperson also told us their staff continues to work around the clock to provide compassionate care for our patients in the midst of this national health crisis.

Full statement from Amy Abel, Director of Communications:

"As of 5/13/2020, Sparta Health & Rehabilitation has 44 patients who have tested positive for the virus with, unfortunately, 11 deaths associated with the virus. Our staff continues to work around the clock to provide compassionate care for our patients in the midst of this national health crisis. Sparta Health & Rehabilitation continues to follow CDC guidance as CDC updates their guidance based on new information learned about the virus.

Sparta Health & Rehabilitation has implemented numerous measures to help protect the health of our patients and our staff, including:
- Restricting non-essential visitation
- Reinforcing CDC guidelines for hand hygiene and environmental cleanliness
- Reviewing infection control policies and action plans with staff
- Screening health care workers prior to reporting for duty and not permitting staff with respiratory symptoms to work
- Suspending group activities and communal dining to support social distancing

Given the recent and rapid spread of Coronavirus across the nation and state, and the vulnerability of the population we serve, we have been and will continue to be in communication with our Medical Director, as well as with the local and state health departments for guidance regarding patients who have an acute respiratory illness.

Additionally, as part of Sparta Health & Rehabilitation’s transparency regarding the Center’s COVID-19 status, the Center’s information is available at http://www.spartahealthrehabilitation.org/."

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