Christmas Eve brings record number of COVID cases in Georgia

It’s sad to bring unpleasant news on Christmas Eve.

But this is the year 2020, when unpleasant things keep happening.

Thursday’s preliminary figures show more than 10,600 new COVID cases in Georgia, easily a single-day record. The total includes 2,682 positives from rapid antigen tests.

Other virus-related numbers are equally frightening.

ICU bed capacity in Georgia is “severely constrained’’ at 90 percent, according to COVID Exit Strategy. Test positivity in the state (the rate of COVID-19 tests that come back positive) has increased to 13.7 percent, a long way from the goal of 5 percent or lower.

Northeast Georgia Health System (NGHS), based in Gainesville, sent out a stark warning Wednesday about another post-holiday spike – and the possibility of rationing medical care.

“We’re struggling to find staff and space to care for people, and our front-line workers are exhausted,” Dr. Clifton Hastings, chief of medical staff for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, the system’s flagship facility, said in a statement. “If COVID cases continue to increase, we may be forced to start making decisions about who we can treat effectively and who we have to send elsewhere or turn away. That’s a decision no physician should have to make, and a situation no one in our community should have to face.”

The average positivity rate for NGHS testing has hit 28 percent, matching the system’s previous high, recorded in July.

“Early in the pandemic, we learned that limiting some services and expanding others can create additional space to care for patients – which we’ve continued to do – but we’re still faced with the challenge of maintaining enough qualified physicians and nurses to provide high-quality care,” said Dr. John Delzell, COVID-19 Incident Commander for NGHS.

“We’re extremely thankful for the staffing support the state has supplied, and we will continue to request additional help, but hospitals across the state all need those same resources.”

A state website, as of midafternoon Thursday, listed 20 Georgia hospitals being on ICU/Critical Care diversion, and four on “total diversion,’’ including Piedmont Healthcare hospitals in Coweta, Fayette and Henry counties.

Phoebe Putney Health System, based in Albany, is seeing the number of hospitalized COVID patients reach a level that it hasn’t seen since the spring, when the virus spread exponentially in the southwest Georgia city.

“We believe much of this spike can be attributed to travel and gatherings around Thanksgiving, and we are extremely concerned about the impact Christmas celebrations may have on the numbers,’’ Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney president and CEO, said Wednesday.

Georgia World Congress Center

The state is reopening a temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center, a convention venue in downtown Atlanta, as medical centers around the state struggle to meet the needs of patients.

“It’s important to remember that vaccination [which began in the United States this month] isn’t a magic bullet that will end the pandemic immediately,” Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, medical director of infectious disease medicine at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said in a statement. “People are tired of hearing this, but the best way to protect yourself, the people you love and your community this holiday season is to not visit family and friends outside your household, or take precautions if you do.”