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Local hospitals work to open more beds as virus hits peak



AUGUSTA, Ga. – Augusta hospitals have never seen this many COVID-19 patients.

“This is far greater than anything we experienced back in July or August,” said Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer of AU Health.

That was our previous peak. The coronavirus inpatient numbers for AU reached the upper 80s. But Coule says there are more than 100 COVID-19 patients now: a record.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical for people to realize that risk of COVID-19 transmission is incredibly high,” Coule explained.

It’s also higher than ever, as statewide in Georgia, around 20 percent of people tested for COVID-19 are positive. In South Carolina, 1 in 3 tests is coming back positive.

Back during the previous peak in Georgia, that number hovered around 12 to 15 percent statewide.

At AU just in the past week, on average, 1 in 4 people tested were positive for COVID-19.

“It’s just unprecedented demand on the testing system,” Coule said.

Since Christmas, AU’s COVID hotline has received more than 11,000 calls, and nearly 2,000 today.

“It is a virus that continues to spread more rapidly, so we expect to have more patients than we do today,” Reyne Gallup, Chief Operating Officer Acute Care Services of University Health Care, said.

Gallup says staff met this afternoon to decide if they would slow down elective surgeries — to help manage the surge.

“We are really trying very hard to look at ways we need to cross-train our staff to be able to take care of our patients,” Gallup said.

Just a month ago, 54 patients were hospitalized at University. Now, they are caring for 127.

And as record-breaking testing continues, hospitals are trying to make room. AU is converting several areas of the hospital into ICU COVID-19 units with most optional procedures canceled.

“Now is the time to consider staying at home unless you’re getting healthcare or getting vaccinated,” Coule said.

Otherwise more unfortunate records will be set. Both AU and University are reorganizing their staff to be able to take care of all these patients. They say the system is stressed unlike any time before.