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COVID-19 surge could come to Troup soon

Amid a nationwide spike in cases, Troup County recorded 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, its highest single-day toll since July, according to numbers from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

That number could be an outlier. But Troup’s seven-day moving average is 11.1 cases per day, a number that reached over 50 during the July surge but has hovered between 6 and 10 during October.

After cases surged in Georgia in July and August, they fell in September and stayed relatively stable in October. November saw a sharp climb though, with the state’s seven-day average at about 2,600 cases per day on Wednesday. Looking back to the more stable October caseload, on Oct. 1, it was 1,190 cases per day — it reached 3,734 in the late July surge.

PCR test positivity rates have gone up over the past month in Troup. The 7-day average positivity rate in Troup County was 11.7 percent on Wednesday. In September, the rate hovered between 5 and 7 percent, while in July, it reached 20 percent.

Troup has seen 116 deaths since the pandemic started, two of which were reported on Wednesday.

Hayla Folden, District 4’s public information officer, said DPH is seeing the numbers go up across District 4, which includes Troup and 11 other counties in West Central Georgia. Cases statewide have been rising since Halloween, she said. Folden isn’t sure when the numbers will peak, but she expects a continued rise in cases due to Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.

The true impact of Thanksgiving on cases may not be known for another week — Folden said a Thanksgiving surge would show up in the numbers about two weeks after the holiday. A surge in deaths would likely not be seen until four to six weeks after the holiday.

According to Folden, the cases are linked to small gatherings of “a couple of friends from outside their household,” more so than large gatherings.

She also mentioned concerns about the Thursday night Christmas parade in downtown LaGrange.

“Unfortunately, the Christmas parade, I know that the Chamber [of Commerce]’s worked very hard to make sure there are several ways to view the Christmas parade without being there downtown to watch it, and, we’ve worked hard with the chamber to make sure that signs are available to be posted by merchants, encouraging people to wear a mask and stay six feet away from other people,” Folden said. “So, I think it’s important for anyone going into the Christmas parade this evening to mind their distance.”

Another parade will take place Saturday in Hogansville.

Recommendations from DPH are the same as ever: wear a mask, stay six feet apart and wash your hands frequently.

“Those small acts really do make a difference,” Folden said.

Dr. Kenneth Horlander, who works at Emory at LaGrange and Wellstar West Georgia, said he and other hospital staff are “really worried” about a December spike.

“We’re still getting very sick people. We have an influx and an outflux, is kind of how I think about it … it feels like that [influx]’s been worse lately,” Horlander said.

Some of the Atlanta-area hospitals where Horlander sends patients that need special care are full, he said.

Wellstar West Georgia has an extra unit they can open if necessary. Horlander said it’s “not going to take much to kind of break the back of that.” Opening that unit would require staff to work overtime, he added.

In talking with patients, Horlander said he’s seen a lot of cases connected to churchgoers. Some churches are being strict by blocking off rows of pews, requiring masks, wiping down surfaces and limiting capacity.

Others though, are doing nothing — not wearing masks, shaking hands, singing, etc.

“I guess they’re just in denial … You have church groups that are taking trips together,” Horlander said, adding that a patient he saw on Thursday had taken a trip where a large group from one church all caught COVID-19.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said the message to citizens should be that COVID-19 is “still very much with us.”

In addition to looking at the DPH data, Thornton’s also been watching local hospital numbers. Though some people at hospitals in Troup County come from elsewhere, hospital capacity is relevant in terms of the resources and infrastructure available for patients.

Based on his discussions with healthcare professionals, Thornton thinks there’s a slight upward trend due to the cold weather forcing people indoors.

“The report I got yesterday was 20 [positive patients] at Wellstar [West Georgia Medical Center], the day before that was 17, but Monday was 22 … it bounces around some,” Thornton said.

The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU care or on ventilators is low, Thornton said, based on what Wellstar officials have told him.

“I think what has happened is, the doctors and hospitals have figured out the treatment protocol that works most effectively for covid, and that’s enabled them to treat more people without putting them in ICU without putting them on a ventilator,” Thornton said.

Horlander agreed with that assessment, saying he and other doctors have gotten better at dealing with the breathing problems COVID-19 causes. On the medication side, not much has changed though, he said.

Many experimental treatments are still unproven, though Horlander said steroids have been shown to help in later stages of the disease.

Looking forward, DPH is preparing for vaccine distribution.

The first batch of vaccines could be distributed to healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and workers by the end of this year.

“It’s not outside of our ordinary daily events, this is something that we do often and prepare for,” Folden said of vaccine distribution.

Now is not the time to let up on safety measures, Horlander said. With vaccine distribution hopefully occurring in the spring, it would be a shame for people to let their guard down now.

“It’s like you can see the finish line, and you trip and fall,” Horlander said.