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Past, present and future: Medical professionals speak to leadership class about COVID-19

On Tuesday, the Leadership Troup class heard from a panel of local medical professionals on the past, present and future impact of COVID-19 on Troup County.

District 4 Public Health representative Alex Wright, WellStar West Georgia Medical Center President Coleman Foss, UrgenCare Co-Partner Ryan Gatens and Emory Clark Holder Clinic  Pulmonologist Ken Horlander discussed their experiences during the pandemic. 

“I’m sad to say, but it’s just reality. This past month in January we saw in Troup County, in one month, more deaths than we have ever seen in the history of our hospital,” Foss said. “There were about 46 deaths and 38 of those were COVID. We were just turning patients as fast as we could.” 

In the beginning of the pandemic, Foss said the hospital didn’t see that many cases until Memorial Day. 

“Bless our hearts, we did a great job until then,” Foss said. “Everybody went out and celebrated … then our numbers started rising.” 

Horlander said in the beginning a lot of patients were put on ventilators, but he said doctors  learned that wasn’t always the best thing to do. 

“We learned a lot during that first spike,” Horlander said. 

“We learned that we needed more negative pressure. We learned that this is different than anything we’ve seen before and that was the time period for learning. The oxygen requirements have been just off the charts.” 

Foss said the numbers are back on the rise post-Christmas break. 

“Right now, what we’re doing is we predict with these mathematical models to predict pieces, and we can see using that where we’re going to be in four week’s time,” Wright said. “This week the report is about 100 plus cases a week for Troup County. Right now, your number [for the next four weeks] is 381, which isn’t 800, but it’s not that great.” 

Over the summer, Wright said Troup County was at 800 cases over four weeks and the county needs to be at 50 to even consider opening things back up and creating normalcy. 

“We’re still in the very middle of what we’re seeing from Christmas time,” Wright said. “They are obviously delayed a little bit. We were off the charts from Christmas gatherings and were over 1,000 in Troup County, which is very scary for us.”

According to Wright, the positivity rate in Troup County is currently at 10.6 percent and back in the summer it was about 20 percent. During the holiday spike, it was at 25 percent. 

“You’re down to 10.6 [positivity rate], but that’s still a cause for alarm. You should be at five to consider reopening,” Wright said. “We still have about five points to go.”

Presently, Horlander said numbers are going down, but there is a delay. 

“For the future, I am worried because of the variants out there that we know are more contagious,” Horlander said. “Except for one vaccine that is not yet available. I think the vaccines do help with every variant. I am very strong about everyone getting the vaccine.” 

Horlander said the vaccine rumors are causing real problems when trying to get people to get vaccinated. 

“Yes, your arm will ache maybe,” Horlander said. 

“You may have some achiness and that kind of thing, especially with the second dose, but you get over it.” 

Foss said 40 percent of Wellstar employees have been vaccinated. 

“There are rumors … out there, but it’s not factual that the vaccine causes fertility issues, or that it’s not good for pregnant women,” Foss said. “Social media is replete with all kinds of information out there, and 90 percent of it is wrong. I would say social media is our biggest problem right now.” 

Frontline workers in Troup County were offered the vaccine first and now the second rollout is for ages 65 and up. 

“For DPH, our next big step is education to get the vaccine, and we do education seminars where we go out, myself included, and educate people,” Wright said. “You really need a second dose. What happens with viruses is variants and mutations come about when you’re not fully vaccinated against something. The virus enters your body and that first dose kind of protects you, but you’re just wounding the virus. It’s going to exit your body, and it’s going to be wounded. And it’s going to get stronger and better. So that second dose would be extremely important to kill it.” 

Gatens said when it comes to being tested, he does not rely on the rapid tests. 

“When you have that conversation in rooms, a lot of people want to hear that,” Gatens said. 

“I would say since March we’ve treated over 3,000 cases. It really is like a one to five ratio where you get a false negative on our rapids. From a public standpoint, I know sometimes you don’t want to hear that because you want to know now. We really push the PCR testing.”