Georgia shattered its record for single-day increases of new COVID cases, with 6,601 reported Friday.
That total of people testing positive for the virus includes more than 1,500 people who took rapid antigen tests. Georgia lists these test results separately from its PCR test results, but most states combine the two figures in their reports.
The previous one-day record of 6,323 came in late November.
COVID-19 cases are spiking dangerously across the country. The United States recorded 217,664 new cases and 2,879 related deaths Thursday — the most infections and fatalities in the country in a single day since the pandemic began.
State Public Health officials have reported large increases in new infections this week. And hospital officials told GHN that they’re seeing steady and alarming rises in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Phoebe Putney Health System, based in Albany, had not seen that uptick until this week. Through the entire month of November, its Albany hospital averaged about two COVID-19 hospital admissions per day.
“Over the last week, that number has more than doubled to about five admissions per day,’’ Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney CEO, said in a statement Friday. “Systemwide, we went from 24 hospitalized patients last Friday to 45 today. That is deeply concerning and a sign that we must not be reckless during the holiday season.”
Phoebe Putney was a virus “hot spot” early in the pandemic.
The surge comes at the same time as good news about COVID vaccine distribution, with target dates for initial deliveries expected in midmonth.
Dr. Harry Heiman, a Georgia State University public health expert, said the state is “at the most dangerous point in this pandemic.’’
“While everyone should be excited about the beginning of vaccine rollout in the next couple weeks, for most of us, that will not make a real difference until sometime in the spring or summer,’’ he said. “In the meantime, we are seeing record numbers of new cases and associated rises in both hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.’’
Heiman said the state’s political and public health leaders have failed to recognize the urgency of this moment, which he called “unconscionable and irresponsible.’’
“We need aggressive action to protect the public’s health today,’’ Heiman said.
Gov. Brian Kemp has encouraged public mask use, but has not required it, though more than 30 other states have done so.
Amber Schmidtke, who publishes the Daily Digest, said Friday that Georgia’s 7-day COVID case rate “is now 18% higher than what we witnessed at our worst point in the summer.”
Schmidtke, a microbiologist, also noted the state insurance commissioner, John King, issued a directive for insurers to expedite authorizations for hospitals to discharge patients to nursing homes or long-term care facilities, to free up space in hospitals.
What comes next in the pandemic is probably the country’s “worst-case scenario in terms of overwhelmed hospitals, in terms of the death count,” Baltimore emergency medicine physician Dr. Leana Wen told CNN.
“There’s just so much virus in our communities right now,” she said.
Her words echoed a grim forecast by CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who warned Wednesday that the next three months are going to be “the most difficult in the public health history of this nation.”
The Georgia Department of Public Health tweeted Friday afternoon: “We’re all tired of COVID-19, but the fact is: COVID-19 is not tired of us. This pandemic isn’t over & cases are still rising across the U.S.’’
The agency tweet urged Georgians to wear masks, keep their distance from others in public spaces, wash their hands frequently and “stay home if you can.”
The state dashboard at 3 p.m. Friday recorded 43 deaths and 212 hospitalizations.
Covid Exit Strategy on Friday listed Georgia as having “uncontrolled spread’’ The website said ICU capacity was severely constrained’’ and the percentage of people testing positive for the virus was increasing at 11.4 percent.
The Gainesville Times reported that Northeast Georgia Health System was treating 196 COVID-19 patients as of Friday. Friday’s count again breaks the health system’s record pandemic peak of 182 reported Thursday.
Steiner of Phoebe Putney said the health system hopes “to be able to begin administering COVID-19 vaccines within the next couple of weeks. That is an important milestone in our COVID-19 fight, but it is not an immediate fix.
“Vaccines will be administered in a phased approach over many months, so we must continue to wear our masks, wash our hands, and watch our distance to minimize the spread of the virus.”