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Social distancing to continue throughout April, officals say

Social distancing practices will have to continue for at least another month in Troup County, according to healthcare professionals on Monday morning.

Coleman Foss, president of WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, and Amy Fenn, Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 assistant director, joined LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton for a roundtable discussion Monday that was streamed on Facebook Live to discuss current conditions of the COVID-19 healthcare crisis.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Troup County had 11 confirmed cases on Monday morning. Statewide, Georgia had 2,809 confirmed cases with 87 deaths.

The discussion was the fourth of similar talks hosted by the city of LaGrange since March 16.

Based on data the public health department is seeing from other countries, Fenn said Americans are still “a little ways off” from being able to have social gatherings again. She said she couldn’t give an exact date because the health department doesn’t believe Troup County has hit its peak of cases yet.

“When we hit that peak, and it starts leveling off, hopefully, we can provide better guidance,” Fenn said. “I know that people want to plan, but right now, it’s hard to plan.”

Based on some of the models the hospital and other healthcare professionals have seen, Foss said he said it could be mid-summer until this crisis is over.

“I would say plan on isolating for April, at least,” he said.

Foss said WGMC has treated 17 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 so far, but not all those patients are Troup County residents. Of those 17 patients, five of them are still hospitalized.

He said the hospital will often have someone they think will be COVID-19 positive because they have all the symptoms, who begins improving before test results are returned. Foss said the hospital has been releasing those patients who improve but with orders to self-quarantine for 14 days regardless of the test results.

“But most of them are doing better,” he said.

Foss said there has only been one fatality, so that brings optimism that the disease doesn’t have a high mortality rate, but that doesn’t mean people won’t get sick.

“We are seeing the acuity level go higher and higher,” he said. “We’re putting more patients on ventilators than we ever have.”

Foss said when the pandemic first started, many people had symptoms but could be treated at home. But now, more patients require ventilation. Foss said the hospital has 19 ventilation machines.

“We’ve been up as high as seven patients on a ventilator in the last 48 hours,” Foss said.

He said as of Monday morning, there were five patients on machines, and the hospital is seeing about two or three positive patients a day.

“But the reality is we know that trend, if we follow what other cities and other areas are doing, that curve could go very sharply up literally overnight,” Foss said.

Foss said whatever numbers are being reported by government agencies and the media is an understated number.

“We know there are more COVID-19 cases out there than what is being reported that are being tested,” he said. “Not everybody who has symptoms is necessarily going in and getting tested.”

Foss said its possible more people will start to seek out testing, but the number of patients showing symptoms of COVID-19 is growing daily.

“Fortunately, there is a fair number that come back negative, but there are still more and more coming back positive,” he said. “As testing gets better, we’re going to see those numbers continue to climb. So, I don’t want to cause fear and panic, but I think pragmatism says, we’re not to the top of the curve — we’re not even close to it.

Fenn said testing is still not widely available, but it’s more accessible than it was two weeks ago. Additionally, the tests are coming back quicker.

“When we first started testing on March 18, it took us about eight days to get our first tests back,” she said. “Now, we’re down to five days.”

However, Fenn said the health department doesn’t want the community to have a false sense of security thinking that Troup County only has 11 cases in correlation with its population, so people are safe.

“That is not correct,” she said. “We know those numbers based on data from other countries will be going up. And we have not peaked yet. We’re not near the peak if you look at the models and look at all the data.”