COVID Hits Area Hard; Peak of Epidemic Nears
The spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to plague the area as doctors and local government officials attempt to protect citizens.
As of Monday, August 23, Memorial Health Meadows Hospital reported that 44 patients were being treated at that facility for COVID. Of this number, 13 were on ventilators. There have been no COVID-positive children admitted thus far.
Slowing the wave of COVID was an intense topic in community meetings last week as both the Vidalia City Council and Toombs County Commission addressed the subject during monthly sessions.
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The Vidalia City Council heard from Memorial Health Meadows Hospital CEO Matt Hasbrouck, Meadows CMO Dr. Karen McColl, and Meadows CMO and Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician Dr. Steve Thacker, who attended the Council session August 9 to update the community about the COVID impact. Hasbrouck began the discussion by informing the Council that the hospital was seeing “unprecedented numbers” of patients on the ventilator. “Normally, we have 2-3 patients on the vent at a time at Meadows; at this moment, we have 12,” he explained. Hasbrouck also voiced his gratitude for the hospital’s alignment with Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), Meadows’ parent company, prior to the COVID spike. Without this partnership, the hospital would be in a “disaster,” he said, adding, “Small hospitals all around us are struggling. We cannot call these hospitals, like Metter, for extra ventilators or supplies because they do not have enough for themselves,” he told the Council. “But luckily, HCA does have 184 hospitals in this country that can share resources.”
Dr. McColl reflected on the state of the county regarding COVID. “August has been the worst we’ve ever seen at Meadows, and personally, the worst I have ever seen in my medical career,” she shared.
“The thing we need most right now from the public is for them to take their own precautionary measures. Socially distance, wear your mask, and protect yourselves as much as possible,” she said. “Also, a large problem we are having right now is the lack of testing availability. The Department of Public Health is only testing on Tuesdays, and it is imperative for them to offer more days to keep the Emergency Department (ED) running as smoothly as possibly.”
Dr. McColl informed the Council that the ED is being flooded with individuals who simply needed testing for work, school, and other endeavors. “Please use whatever personal connections you have and help us fight for this (additional testing),” she pleaded.
In a phone interview on Monday, Dr. McColl stressed the importance of masking up in public spaces, both inside and outside, to curb the spread of the virus. She said the Delta variant is easily spread in school and church settings, as well as at outside public gatherings like football games. Dr. Thacker spoke to the Council about the surge in the infection rate among children and adolescents. “It has not been determined why youth are more susceptible to this particular strand, but it is important that these young people take precautions like everyone else, especially in school and sports settings,” he said. He told the Council that at that current time, seven youths were hospitalized with COVID in the Children’s Hospital in Savannah, which is a referral facility for Memorial Hospital. “Yes, this is a low number in comparison to adults—but for children, it is a large amount, especially when you take into account that children have lost their lives to this illness,” he disclosed.
According to Dr. Thacker, the number of those hospitalized does not reflect the amount of youth who are infected. Children enter the hospital daily and test positive for the coronavirus, he said. The medical experts shared that epidemiologists believe the spread within the Montgomery-Toombs County region would peak on August 27.
COVID financial relief continues to pour down from the state and federal governments, as the Council also authorized the acceptance of $13,000 from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), which is sent from the Georgia Department of Transportation. This money is reimbursement for operational expenses that happened on or after January 20, 2020. Toombs Commission Action The spread of COVID was taken up by the Toombs County Commission in a recent session as Commissioners brainstormed a way to promote public safety regarding this illness. All members of the Commission have been vaccinated and advocate vaccinationsas thebest possible precautionary measure for the public.
“I have taken both of my vaccine shots, and even plan on taking a booster,” Commissioner Darriel Nobles said. “I encourage everyone to do the same to protect themselves and others.”
The Montgomery County Board of Education addressed COVID in its monthly meeting on August 16, as the spread of the virus continued to complicate normal school practices and require special provisions. Interim Superintendent Mark Davidson shared with the BOE and the public that mask wearing among students was at a very low percentage. “Around 10 to 12% at most wear their masks daily,” he said.
Many normal school activities, such as field trips, are now in question as Davidson and board members worry students may become infected outside of the classroom. Davidson and the Board continue to discuss and ponder the possibility of postponing these events to ensure student safety.
Another difficulty the school was facing was rebellion and concern regarding the mask mandate on school buses. “Bus drivers have reported students repeatedly refusing to keep their masks on while riding the school bus,” Davidson explained, adding, “Parents complain that it is because the buses that do not have air conditioning are too hot to have passengers’ airways covered. I understand the concern, but it is a state-mandated precaution currently, and we cannot change that.” Because of this issue, the BOE adopted a policy that states if students do not comply with the mask mandate while traveling on the bus, “their privilege to ride shall be revoked.” Other policies adopted by the BOE because of COVID include a 10-day leave for teachers who test positive for COVID or are required to quarantine. This policy is to ensure that teachers are not forced to spend their sick days on quarantines that they cannot prevent. Funding from the CARES Act will provide the pay for substitute teachers in the absence of teachers who are on leave.
“We are also in desperate need of substitutes for our middle and high school,” Davidson told the BOE and public. “If you are interested in working as a substitute, please do not hesitate to apply.” Mon t g ome r y County Schools currently have three staff members who tested positive for COVID, and no staff members in quarantine; these staff members only make up 2% of the staff population. Around the same percentage of students have tested positive for the virus; 21 of the school system’s total 974 students are COVID positive. Yet, there are many more students in quarantine, as 113 students are quarantined because of school-related exposure and 34 remain home for nonschool related exposure, totaling 147 total quarantined students. On August 20, Vidalia City Schools reported 38 (1.5%) of its 2,504 students were COVID positive and 10 (2.9%) of its 338 employees were COVID positive. Toombs County School System reported on August 20 that 36 (1.2%) of its 2,971 students were COVID positive and 11 (2.7%) of its 406 employees were COVID positive.
In Wheeler County, where masks are mandatory for students and staff, in the latest COVID update posted on the website on August 20, a cumulative total of 83 students (9.3%) and three staff members (1.9%) have been quarantined. On August 20, 14 students had positive COVID status and one staff member had positive COVID status.
At Vidalia Heritage Academy on August 23, three students were COVID positive and no employees were positive. One staff member was quarantined on Monday but returned to work on Tuesday.
Robert Toombs Christian Academy did not respond to requests for information.