The new coronavirus has struck a southwest Georgia hospital with hurricane-like force. Just hours after Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency Saturday... Southwest Georgia hospital treating wave of COVID-19 patients

The new coronavirus has struck a southwest Georgia hospital with hurricane-like force.

Just hours after Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency Saturday over the virus, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital officials were notified that seven of its patients tested positive for COVID-19.

The Albany hospital already had been treating another individual who tested positive.

Five of the eight are hospitalized there, and three are at home.


The state’s reported total of coronavirus patients stood at 99 on Sunday, up from 64 the day before.

Besides the current individuals with positive tests, Phoebe is awaiting coronavirus test results on 41 other patients in the hospital. Each has symptoms of the disease – typically fever and signs of acute respiratory illness, such as cough and difficulty breathing.

About 30 Phoebe staff members – from doctors and nurses to housekeepers – are self-quarantining at their homes, having had contact with coronavirus patients and showing mild symptoms, said Scott Steiner, CEO of Phoebe Putney Health System.

“It’s uncharted waters,’’ Steiner told GHN on Sunday morning. “We’re all working 14 to 16 hours a day.’’

“Our employees and doctors have done an incredible job,’’ Steiner said. But they are also “stressed out,’’ he said. “There is emotional fatigue. We are providing emotional support.’’

Supplies are getting low, Steiner said. For personal protective equipment – surgical gowns, masks, gloves, face masks and goggles – “we went through six months’ worth in five days,’’ he said. “We don’t have much left.’’ (Here’s a recent GHN article on a shortage of protective gear.)

Besides current hospital patients awaiting test results, 21 other Albany area residents are also awaiting results, but are still in their residences, Steiner said.

There’s a 4- to 6-day lag in getting test results, which adds to the staff workload, he said.


The coronavirus impact on Phoebe Putney began about a week ago, when a patient who eventually tested positive was visiting the Albany area, apparently for a funeral. That patient was eventually transferred at his request from Phoebe to a metro Atlanta hospital, Phoebe officials said. The individual was not tested in Albany.

The seven individuals diagnosed Saturday “are community-acquired infections, and there is evidence that a number of these patients had contact with each other before being hospitalized,’’ said Dr. Steve Kitchen, Phoebe chief medical officer, on Saturday. “We have been working with the Department of Public Health to investigate the connections between these patients so DPH can work to notify others who may be at risk.”

Hospitals across the state are seeing a deluge of patients coming to their ERs, wanting to get tested for coronavirus even if they don’t have symptoms, the Georgia Hospital Association said Sunday.

“ER staff are having to screen them and rule them out,’’ said Anna Adams, a GHA vice president. “It’s not dissimilar from the run on grocery stores.’’

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital


Patients who are experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19 should call their medical provider first instead of going to an emergency room, Adams said.

Hospitals across the state are running low on supplies of personal protective equipment. Adams said Sunday. GHA is asking for help on supplies from the state and from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, she added.

While metro Atlanta hospitals can share the patient load, Phoebe Putney is the only hospital in the Albany area. Neighboring Lee County recently received a certificate of need from state regulators to build a new hospital, but the project has not gotten off the ground.

Phoebe has been in touch with the Governor’s Office, Public Health officials, state lawmakers and other hospitals.  Other South Georgia hospital officials have asked how they can help, Steiner said.

Phoebe Putney is delaying some elective surgeries and has temporarily banned visitors. Every person, including employees, entering the hospital is getting a temperature check.

Steiner said that hospital staff are using cleaning procedures “that meet or exceed CDC disinfection guidelines for COVID. We stood up a Coronavirus Task Force weeks ago, and our Incident Command Center has been in operation since Tuesday.’’

On Sunday afternoon, Phoebe said it’s expanding its coronavirus hotline and opening a drive-through screening facility.  Anyone who wants to be tested at the temporary screening site must first call the hotline, officials said.

“COVID-19 test kits remain in limited supply, so only people who are experiencing symptoms should be tested.  Symptomatic individuals who pass an initial phone screening will be given an appointment and instructed where to go for in-person screening,” said Dr. Suresh Lakhanpal, Phoebe Physicians chief executive officer.

Dr. Charles Ruis, director of the southwest Georgia public health district, said Saturday that “while we all need to be concerned and vigilant, today’s positive tests should not induce undue alarm.  We expected more positive cases, and we know additional cases will be confirmed in communities across the state.”

What happens if more patients need hospitalization?

Steiner said Phoebe still has available beds. “We’re going to have more cases. We’ve prepared well.’’

“We’re curious if any other hospital had a similar day as ours yesterday,’’ he said.



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Andy Miller

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News

  • Charles

    March 15, 2020 #1 Author

    So, by my count, about 100 cases in a cluster around Albany. This makes it potentially one of the worst clusters in the nation if the tests come back largely positive. And certainly the worst in a rural area. Surprised the national press has not picked up on this story. Sadly, many of these folks are listening to Rush Limbaugh, and still think this is “nothing but a cold”.


    • Mark

      March 15, 2020 #2 Author

      I was wondering that too, if it’s a cluster/hot zone? And should the area be put on lock down?


      • Bert Reed

        March 17, 2020 #3 Author

        The 19 of the covid 19 simply means that this virus has happened 18 times before. Basically it is just a cold but on steroids.


        • Bert Reed

          March 17, 2020 #4 Author

          You also have to take Into account, the Marine Logistics Base in Albany. Could have come in from there.


        • Charles

          March 17, 2020 #5 Author

          Wrong and wrong. The 19 identities that it was first discovered in 2019. And it is NOTHING like a cold. For many, it is a deadly disease.


    • Larry

      March 15, 2020 #6 Author

      “The state’s reported total of coronavirus patients stood at 99 on Sunday, up from 64 the day before.” Check your math before you panic.


      • Cindy

        March 15, 2020 #7 Author

        Phoebe has 8 confirmed, 41 other patients waiting for results and 30 staff members in self isolation. That’s 79. It’s not 100 but sand sure close. Charles isn’t panicking just stating facts. Maybe you need to read a little more carefully before you put your thoughts out. Just saying.


      • Charles

        March 16, 2020 #8 Author

        The math is simple. Add the known positives, the admitted presumptive cases, the 21 at home pending results, and the roughly 30 staff that are isolated and symptomatic. That, as I said, is roughly 100 if they indeed are positive. And there is every expectation they will mostly be positive. Sorry to have to school you in math lol.


      • Melissa

        March 16, 2020 #9 Author

        Keep in mind as well, that GA can only test 100 people per day, and the results take a couple of days. We actually have no clue how many are truly infected.


    • Kitty

      March 15, 2020 #10 Author

      There was a reference to Albany re-covid in the New Yorker, I believe, before the latest spate of 19 positives.


      • McC

        March 15, 2020 #11 Author

        The initial screening needs to be re-evaluated. This is a gradual virus that does not have all of the symptoms at the beginning. It may have the fever at the end when the person is severely ill. People are being told that they need to meet all of the criteria, and then not tested early enough. Then they continue their lives while infecting others. This is why we have so many cases!


      • Susie

        March 16, 2020 #12 Author

        Press conference today (WALB) says 99 total samples collected to date. Only ten have reported back, 8 of 10 were positive, 5 hospitalized pts and 3 at home. Of 89 tests outstanding, 58 are pts in hospital. Expect more results this afternoon. They’ve started drive through testing today.


    • Jimmy Burch Sr

      March 16, 2020 #13 Author

      Seems the ones who will propet from the virus is on going as usual.the needs ar evident to provisions bu most of the time goes to non profit entities not directly involved with fighting the over all needs of patients over all going in to coffer for other,not amused when o see stores bombarded and drained of comaties without real needs. We have provisions of debeliver in cases such s mass controlled distribution, such as case lot sales vs shopping infesting further spread of viruses with depleting store stocks .the offset is Billions in sales dollars to stor owners and displacement of needed items for some. My opinion.


  • Mike

    March 15, 2020 #14 Author

    Your count is wrong. There are 99 confirmed cases in the state. About 8 in the Albany area.


  • McC

    March 15, 2020 #15 Author

    The initial screening needs to be re-evaluated. This is a gradual virus that does not have all of the symptoms at the beginning. It may have the fever at the end when the person is severely ill. People are being told that they need to meet all of the criteria, and then not tested early enough. Then they continue their lives while infecting others. This is why we have so many cases!


  • Debi

    March 15, 2020 #16 Author

    As the article said the original one had come down for a funeral. At a funeral you’re in close quarters you’re hugging people , shaking hands and crying. Not to mention eating together. That might possibly explain cluster of cases.


    • Amy

      March 17, 2020 #17 Author

      Can y’all not read. 100 is the total for the state. The cluster in Albany is 8.


      • Charles

        March 17, 2020 #18 Author

        Wrong. 8 are lab confirmed, there are around 100 believed to be positive awaiting results here in Albany. I know this for a fact. Answers available later today.


  • Angie

    March 15, 2020 #19 Author

    Dougherty County hasn’t even been showing up on the CDC daily total.


    • Katen

      March 15, 2020 #20 Author

      I read that the cases are counted by the patients residence address rather that the hospital address. So some of the cases would be counted as Lee County, etc.


    • GG

      March 16, 2020 #21 Author

      Our Governor is doing nothing to control this spread. Who does he think is going to do his job? Everything needs to cease. Community spread is between the people out and about thinking this is no big deal. Why do others have to suffer for these idiots and an incompetent leader.?


    • Sheryl

      March 16, 2020 #22 Author

      Can you tell us who’s funeral it was……Being a life long residence I could have been at the same funeral, My self and many others could have been exposed…


  • Ang

    March 15, 2020 #23 Author

    Phoebe set itself up for this…having to carry this whole load, with no other hospital nearby. They have fought for their monopoly in Albany.


    • Mary

      March 15, 2020 #24 Author

      So very proud of the doctors and nurses standing by to support the public. We don’t value our medical professionals like we should.. they sacrifice so much to keep us all HEALTHY. This is a dreadful way to realize just how important they are to our daily lives. Thank you for what you do!


  • Sara Everett

    March 15, 2020 #25 Author

    Whose fault is it that Phoebe Pitney is the only hospital in the area? I wish Palmyra was still here and that the proposed Lee County hospital was up and running.


  • Susie

    March 15, 2020 #26 Author

    This article says that 41 patients, who are sick enough with relevant symptoms to be currently hospitalized, have tests still pending. They’ve already been tested for flu, etc and were negative. Thus they have a high probability of being positive for COVID-19. Per the Phoebe staff conference call today, many are members of several churches. The sickest are in their 40s and 50s and morbidly obese.

    This is in addition to whoever is out in the community with known or unknown symptoms.


  • Ruthscurry

    March 16, 2020 #27 Author

    Mores stores need to have online shopping. That would help. Then people would be less exposed to the virus.


  • Charles

    March 16, 2020 #28 Author

    I was coughing and sneezing and running a fever last Tuesday and Wednesday I saw my doctor on Thursday but no testing for Coronas was available I am on antibiotics Mucinex prescription nasal spray Etc and I am still ill and I’m self quarantine because I don’t know what I really have I’m not going to put anybody in public my office my family and friends in the manic experience a trying to go to the grocery store when I got my prescriptions was overwhelming I have health issues with my lungs for the last 30 years and I’m trying to stay positive


    • Patti

      March 17, 2020 #29 Author

      Charles, have you been back in touch with your physician? You should be tested.


    • Inez Cleveland

      March 17, 2020 #30 Author

      No weapons formed against you shall prosper. Your lungs are healed, they are free from fluid and clots. You will breathe with no oxygen tank if you are on one. Thank You Jesus for healing Charles. God love you, now walk in your healing.❤️


  • Bert Reed

    March 17, 2020 #31 Author

    You also have to take Into account, the Marine Logistics Base in Albany. Could have come in from there.


    • Judith L Hatch

      March 17, 2020 #32 Author

      3.18.20 Hi, Bert. I live in ALBANY. Our elected officials & hospital announced today that they are “relatively” certain that the Covid-19 Patient Zero in Albany transmitted the disease while visiting for this funeral. Several people now “positive ” are workers and the funeral home.


      • Judith L Hatch

        March 17, 2020 #33 Author

        It’s 3.17.20, Bert! (typed ereor in date). Happy St. Patrick’s Day


  • Michael

    March 17, 2020 #34 Author

    So 7 people test positive and you describe it as hurricane force? You guys are the largest part of the problem with sensationalizing everything…. how about they tested positive but they show no signs or symptoms, guess they dodged that bullet.

    But no, it’s bad oh real bad , if a hurricane came thru here, which it has, and affect only 7 homes we’d look at you like a idiot…. oh did I say that,


  • Janey Jacks

    March 19, 2020 #36 Author

    I copied this from a friend ~ it’s the best explanation I’ve read/heard/seen anywhere. After reading this, I am not going to be as callous about this virus… Hope this helps your understanding, also. <3

    Feeling confused as to why Coronavirus is a bigger deal than Seasonal flu? Here it is in a nutshell. I hope this helps. Feel free to share this to others who don’t understand…

    It has to do with RNA sequencing…. I.e. genetics.

    Seasonal flu is an “all human virus”. The DNA/RNA chains that make up the virus are recognized by the human immune system. This means that your body has some immunity to it before it comes around each year… you get immunity two ways…through exposure to a virus, or by getting a flu shot.

    Novel viruses, come from animals…. the WHO tracks novel viruses in animals, (sometimes for years watching for mutations). Usually these viruses only transfer from animal to animal (pigs in the case of H1N1) (birds in the case of the Spanish flu). But once, one of these animal viruses mutates, and starts to transfer from animals to humans… then it’s a problem, Why? Because we have no natural or acquired immunity.. the RNA sequencing of the genes inside the virus isn’t human, and the human immune system doesn’t recognize it so, we can’t fight it off.

    Now…. sometimes, the mutation only allows transfer from animal to human, for years it’s only transmission is from an infected animal to a human before it finally mutates so that it can now transfer human to human… once that happens..we have a new contagion phase. And depending on the fashion of this new mutation, thats what decides how contagious, or how deadly it’s gonna be..

    H1N1 was deadly….but it did not mutate in a way that was as deadly as the Spanish flu. It’s RNA was slower to mutate and it attacked its host differently, too.

    Fast forward.

    Now, here comes this Coronavirus… it existed in animals only, for nobody knows how long…but one day, at an animal market, in Wuhan China, in December 2019, it mutated and made the jump from animal to people. At first, only animals could give it to a person… But here is the scary part…. in just TWO WEEKS it mutated again and gained the ability to jump from human to human. Scientists call this quick ability, “slippery”

    This Coronavirus, not being in any form a “human” virus (whereas we would all have some natural or acquired immunity). Took off like a rocket. And this was because, Humans have no known immunity…doctors have no known medicines for it.

    And it just so happens that this particular mutated animal virus, changed itself in such a way the way that it causes great damage to human lungs..

    That’s why Coronavirus is different from seasonal flu, or H1N1 or any other type of influenza…. this one is slippery AF. And it’s a lung eater…And, it’s already mutated AGAIN, so that we now have two strains to deal with, strain s, and strain L….which makes it twice as hard to develop a vaccine.

    We really have no tools in our shed, with this. History has shown that fast and immediate closings of public places has helped in the past pandemics. Philadelphia and Baltimore were reluctant to close events in 1918 and they were the hardest hit in the US during the Spanish Flu.

    Factoid: Henry VIII stayed in his room and allowed no one near him, till the Black Plague passed…(honestly…I understand him so much better now). Just like us, he had no tools in his shed, except social isolation…

    And let me end by saying….right now it’s hitting older folks harder… but this genome is so slippery…if it mutates again (and it will). Who is to say, what it will do next.


  • JamesG

    April 1, 2020 #39 Author

    This is all wrong. And you are spreading FUD. The only thing that differentiates COVID-19 from any other common coronavirus is its affinity for wet epithelial cells (respiratory) AND its long gestation period. Humans (or any other animal) never has a “natuarl” immunity to anything. It takes exposure to a pathogen for the body to create an antibody for it. There isn’t a vaccine for it yet because it was not anticipated and it takes months for bio-labs to come up with on, test it, and then produce it in sufficient quantities to do any good. That is why sometimes the yearly flu shot doesn’t work, they guess wrong six months prior and don’t pick which strain is going to be prevalent.


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