SGMC executive board room meeting 4/6

Johnny Ball | South Georgia Medical Center

To minimize the spread of COVID-19, anyone inside South Georgia Medical Center must wear a mask and abide by the Centers for Disease Control social distancing guidelines.

VALDOSTA — Ronnie Dean's biggest concern is spread.

Spread of the coronavirus around the community, he said Monday.

The South Georgia Medical Center chief executive officer emphasized that the next two to four weeks would be crucial to curtail COVID-19 from spreading throughout the community.

Seated at least six feet apart and donning masks, The Valdosta Daily Times spoke with SGMC officials about how they are managing their current stable of COVID-19 patients and preparing for a possible surge during the coming weeks.

Lowndes County already had its number of COVID-19 cases double in the past seven days, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

To try minimizing spread, SGMC has required every person inside the hospital wear a mask at all times. The widespread mask policy helps prevent transmission from people who could be positive for COVID-19 but present no symptoms, Dean said.

"We're taking that extra level of precaution because we just don't have that 100% level of safety we can know, so that's why we're building in additional layers of safety," said Dr. Brian Dawson, SGMC chief medical officer.

During a national press briefing Sunday, Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said half of the people infected with the coronavirus may not show symptoms.

"Who knows who's got this thing?" he said. "The dadgum tiger at the Bronx Zoo's got it."

The hospital uses two different testing methods that provide results within 48 hours, but Dean said SGMC hopes to have in-house testing kits available in a couple of weeks. The testing kits would cut the waiting period from 48 hours to four hours.

Testing for COVID-19 has been a national concern, but so has the number of available beds in hospitals.

As of 11 a.m. Monday, of the 40 COVID-19 related patients in the hospital, 28 tested positive and 12 were under observation, Dean said, but in anticipation of an increase in patients during the coming week, the hospital opened a third COVID-19 treatment unit and the hospital plans to open a fourth unit, Dean said.

Each unit contains about 24 beds, Dean said, totaling about 91 beds available for COVID-19 patients.

"We're not at capacity. We're not in a disaster mode," Dean said. "We're in a control and measure capacity-management mode now."

The CEO admitted the situation can change daily, but he said he feels confident the hospital has the space to treat patients.

That confidence applies to supplies as well.

With New York City hospitals running out of protective equipment, medical supplies have become a national talking point.

Dean said he feels comfortable SGMC has well-stocked supplies and is ready in case a large influx of COVID-19 patients appear.

"We're in control. We have supplies," he said. "I'm good on gloves, gowns, masks, N-95's and ventilators. I'm good on everything."

He added SGMC feels prepared for any significant increase in COVID-19 patients.

Only 11 of the available 69 ventilators were in use Monday, Dawson said. Not all of the 11 patients using ventilators are related to the coronavirus, Dean added. 

"That number changes because if one breaks, then it can't be operated," Dawson said. "So, that number changes on an almost hourly basis."

While everything seems to be a fluid situation when discussing the pandemic, Dawson said he appreciates his staff for their consistency and hard work.

"This staff has been inspirational, absolutely inspirational," he said. "Their dedication to come in and doing what needs to be done, you can just tell this is what they're built for."

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