WATCH LIVE | GHSA Football Class A Division I Championship: Swainsboro vs. Prince Avenue Christian
For Albany Hospital, It's COVID Deja Vu All Over Again
Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Scott Steiner doesn't hold back his frustration.
"If you told me a year ago, 'Hey, we're going to have a vaccine by December and it's going to be a great vaccine,' I would have said we'll have this thing buried by summer," he said. "But what we're seeing today is extremely disappointing. And I would tell you, people are now angry."
Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany was overrun last year in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with their intensive care unit at peak capacity and, at times, dwindling amounts of masks and respirators.
As the city was on its way to becoming a global hotspot in February 2020, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital ran through its five-month stockpile of personal protective equipment in a matter of weeks. Later that April, Albany had the nation's worst per capita rate of death, according to The New York Times.
It was a reality that many of the doctors and nurses hoped never to return to with the development of the vaccine. But now, they're starting to come full circle again as the delta variant of the virus tears through America.
According to USA Facts, only 38% of Georgia's population is fully vaccinated. That's reflected in Dougherty, the county in which Albany is seated.
"It's not surprising when only less than 40% of our county's vaccinated," Steiner said. "We had a chance to bury this virus and we blew that chance."
Phoebe Putney's ICU ward is, once again, overwhelmed. The numbers are dire: This week, 58 COVID-19 patients were admitted. Three weeks ago, there were only seven.
Eight of those admitted were "breakthrough" cases of vaccinated patients. Even among the breakthrough cases, Steiner said the vaccine's benefits are tangible.
"For those vaccinated, the hospital stay is about two to four days," he said. "For those unvaccinated: seven, eight, nine, ten days."
Steiner said that the longer it takes for people to get vaccinated, the greater the chance the virus could fly fully out of control.
"The longer we wait, the more this thing is allowed to mutate after delta," he said. "The longer we allow this to continue, we're just going to be continuing to talk about it. Right now, we're actually calling delta 'COVID-21.'"
He said the staff at Phoebe Putney have also been feeling the strain of a new wave of the battle against COVID.
"They say, 'I can't believe we're doing this again. I just can't believe we're doing this again,'" Steiner said. "I think that's a combination of that anger, that frustration. That big, deep sigh. They're not just tired, they're emotionally tired."
Questions about the future are still unclear for him.
"I think there's always hope, right?" Steiner said. "The vaccination was our hope. So it's not too late to have this thing squashed if we can get vaccinated to 80-plus percent. We could get it done by Christmas. But if we don't, you know, it's going to mutate again. We'll be talking about 'COVID-22.'"