COVID hospitalizations hit new record in Georgia

Georgia has set a new record for the number of people hospitalized for COVID on a single day.

The total reached 3,221 — surpassing the previous peak, 3,200, set in July — according to state Department of Public Health figures released Wednesday.

Northside Hospital told GHN that its hospitals “have matched the spike we saw in July,’’ but added that COVID-19 patients still constitute less than 25 percent of its overall hospital patient population.

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta said it had 70 COVID patients Wednesday, up from 63 on Tuesday and the low to mid-60s last week.

Meanwhile, the state’s overall count of new infections reported Wednesday hit 6,869 (including people testing positive on rapid antigen tests), continuing a streak of high numbers of cases reported daily in the post-Thanksgiving surge.

Public Health said the seven-day average of new cases reported went up 18 percent from the state’s previous peak July 24. “These weekly increases may appear small, but they reflect our highest case numbers ever, and are not decreasing or leveling off day to day,’’ the agency said.

The spike in hospitalizations and cases comes as COVID-19 vaccine doses have begun to be administered in the state.

Grady Memorial Hospital

Albany-based Phoebe Putney Health System – hard hit during the early days of the pandemic — began to see its hospitalization numbers go up again late last week.

“Our number of hospitalized patients has increased significantly over the last two and a half weeks, jumping by 40 percent system-wide in last week alone,” Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney Health System’s president and CEO, said in a statement Friday. “We are now at a level not seen since early September.”

The 11-hospital Piedmont Healthcare system said Wednesday that “Piedmont’s percentage of COVID-19 patients has remained fairly consistent relative to the state’s number of hospitalized patients throughout the pandemic. Trends indicate that about 9 percent of all COVID cases result in hospitalizations, and so as cases increase, Piedmont’s numbers are no different from any other system in Georgia.’’

Rural hospitals are also seeing a rise in hospitalizations, said Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, an association of rural hospitals in the state. But he added that “I’m not hearing frantic panic’’ from hospital CEOs about the increasing numbers.

Amber Schmidtke, who publishes the Daily Digest tracking COVID here, said Wednesday that “just as we are in uncharted territory for case rate now, we are also in uncharted territory for hospital demand due to COVID-19.” (The chart below is from the Daily Digest.)

Going online again

Meanwhile, thousands of Georgia public school students have shifted from classrooms to remote learning to wind up their COVID-disrupted semesters.

Schools across the state have moved to online, remote classes as cases have surged in the past couple of weeks, including among students. The schools’ winter break generally begins next week.

In northeast Georgia, all Hall County system middle and high school students who were taking classes in person switched to at-home learning from Wednesday through Friday, the last day before the winter break.

Valdosta City Schools moved to virtual learning for all students due to a “significant increase” in COVID-19 cases since the return from Thanksgiving break.

Smiths Station High School in Columbus, citing a high rate of exposures, has stopped conducting in-person classes for the rest of the week.

In an emailed interview Tuesday with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, SSHS principal Brad Cook didn’t provide the number of reported infections and exposures to the coronavirus among students and employees. But he said many students and staffers could not attend in person “due to exposures more so than actual positives.”

On Monday night, the Troup County School System announced in a news release that the district’s “highest number of positive and quarantined cases since school started in August” prompted the district to decide to conduct only virtual classes during the week after Christmas break, the Ledger-Enquirer reported.

Students in Cobb County will end the semester at home, learning remotely as virus cases increase, district officials said.

“The number of positive COVID-19 cases in our community continues to rise and we are taking every possible step, including using remote learning days, to keep community spread from becoming school spread,” officials said, the AJC reported.

Smiths Station High School                    Credit: Ledger-Enquirer

Fulton County Schools, the state’s fourth-largest school system, announced that all high schools would switch to remote learning starting Wednesday and that this would continue through the remainder of the fall semester.

But Savannah-Chatham County schools will remain in its current hybrid format until the winter break recess, which begins next week.

The school board reiterated its decision to monitor three indicators of the virus’ spread: daily case rate, community transmission index and percentage of positive tests, the Savannah Morning News reported.

“If there is a need for all-virtual, the superintendent will make that decision,” wrote Stacy Jennings, district director of communications, in an email. “SCCPSS is watching the transmission rates and remains in close contact with officials from the Coastal Health District.

DeKalb County

One school system that’s been all-virtual all semester, DeKalb County, is also watching test positivity rates.

DeKalb County Schools has proposed January reopening dates for buildings based on coronavirus positivity rates, according to the AJC.

The return to the classrooms hinges on the countywide positivity rate in coronavirus testing.

The targeted positivity rate is below 5 percent. Positivity rates greater than 10 percent will require online-only learning for all students.

The county’s current positivity rate (over the past two weeks) is 10.3 percent, up from 6.6 percent Dec. 1.