Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB News (file photo)
No break from COVID: Metro Atlanta medical officials urge vaccinations
A 70-year-old man recently entered a metro Atlanta hospital after a fall. He subsequently tested positive for COVID.
So did his daughter, who drove him to the hospital. Eight other family members also tested positive.
Three of the 10 died, said Dr. Danny Branstetter, medical director of infection prevention for Marietta-based Wellstar Health System, addressing the media Thursday about the COVID crisis in the Atlanta area.
None of the 10 was vaccinated, said Branstetter, who did not provide personal details.
Branstetter joined medical officials of five other metro Atlanta health care systems in the media briefing to deliver a stark description of the current COVID surge’s impact on hospitals and their staffs.
These officials’ message: Georgians should do what they can to reduce and prevent infections.
That starts with vaccinations. A large majority of patients hospitalized with COVID have not been vaccinated, the officials said.
At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, more than 95% of children who are hospitalized with COVID and are eligible for vaccination have not received the shots, said Dr. Andi Shane, division chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the pediatric health system. (Here’s a recent GHN story on kids’ vaccination rates.)
Children not eligible for vaccines — those under age 5 — “are completely dependent upon people around them’’ to protect them from the virus, Shane added.
The briefing continued the unprecedented coordination among these Atlanta area health systems in alerting the media and public about the dangers and prevention strategies related to COVID spread.
Georgia recently has set records in numbers of infections reported daily. The current surge, ignited by the omicron variant, has generated an extraordinary spread of the disease, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia’s Public Health commissioner, told state lawmakers earlier Thursday. Late in the day, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, announced that he has tested positive for COVID.
Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital is operating at 110% capacity, Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer and chief of staff of Grady Health System, told reporters.
The hospital’s emergency room “is wall-to-wall stretchers,’’ he said. “We have no capacity left at the hospital.’’ It’s the busiest Grady has been since the pandemic began. The hospital has been forced to divert ambulances recently to other facilities.
Nurses and other employees are feeling exhaustion and frustration during this fifth surge, said Sharon Pappas, chief nurse executive at Emory Healthcare. Staff have been extraordinarily creative and resilient in fighting the disease, she said.
Nevertheless, Pappas said, “we are seeing many nurses and clinicians leave the profession or pause their careers because of the stress the pandemic has caused, both personally and professionally.’’
Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of Piedmont Healthcare’s COVID-19 Task Force, noted that the average length of a hospital stay is lower during this omicron-driven surge than during the previous four COVID waves.
But Morgan warned that people should take the current wave very seriously. The sentiment that some people have about intentionally getting COVID so they can put it behind them is “an absolutely terrible idea,’’ she said.
Therapeutic treatments are in short supply, she noted, with Piedmont and other systems having to triage who gets this care.
There’s also the potential for a person to get “long-haul’’ COVID or other lingering symptoms. And Morgan said children need to be protected from the disease.
Like other systems, Northeast Georgia Health System, based in Gainesville, has seen record numbers of employees out sick with COVID. If you have symptoms, don’t go to work or travel, said Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, the system’s medical director for infectious diseases. “Isolate immediately and get tested.”
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Health News.