METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — Now more than three weeks into the coronavirus spread in Georgia, area hospitals are beginning to see greater numbers of patients, according to state health officials.

All three hospitals with operations in North Fulton and Forsyth County — Northside, Emory and WellStar — have adjusted scheduling for elective surgery to accommodate a greater patient load due to the illness that is sweeping the country.

Emory Hospital reported last week a steady increase in COVID-19 patients as the number of confirmed cases in Fulton County surpassed 300.

A spokeswoman for WellStar said their 11 hospitals are also experiencing increased patient volume.

“As a precautionary measure, we have erected tents at some of our locations, including WellStar North Fulton Hospital, to serve as a temporary extension of our emergency department,” she said.

While coronavirus testing is available at hospitals and through private physicians, most are limiting the tests to those with confirmed symptoms, those over 60 and people with chronic medical conditions that would be susceptible to the virus.

Wellstar officials said they have an online assessment tool that helps evaluate potential COVID-19-related illness. It also provides links to relevant resources and information, and suggests a next course of action, such as contacting a health provider or, for those who may not need in-person medical care, safely managing symptoms at home.

Hospitals receiving assistance

On Friday, Southern Baptist compassion ministry, Send Relief, mobilized at its resources to distribute some 20,000 N-95 masks and 25,000 protective suits to local hospitals and healthcare facilities identified by the Georgia Hospital Association as those in need. Trucks assembled at the charity’s headquarters in Alpharetta Friday morning to begin the delivery.

Hospital bed capacity remains a concern, not immediately, but potentially down the road, said Dr. David Holland, chief clinical officer for the Fulton County Board of Health.

“What’s been reported to me by the staffs is that things are beginning to fill up,” he said. “We are not in a critical situation yet, but we are moving in that direction. That is the entire point of the social distancing measures is to slow that down so that we don’t end up with everybody needing a hospital bed all at once.”

Holland said preventing a surge in coronavirus patients is important, not just to those who contract COVID-19 but to others as well – those who suffer medical emergencies like a heart attack or stroke.

Holland said right now Fulton County is operating one drive-thru testing site, but he expects more to open in the coming days.

Sites require criteria for testing

Holland stressed that these testing drive-thrus are available only to those who meet certain criteria. Persons must be:

  • Over 60 years old or be caring for someone over 60
  • A first responder or healthcare worker
  • Suffering from a serious chronic medical condition like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease
  • Working or living in a congregant setting

Holland said that as more test kits become available and more drive-thrus are added in future days, he expects the criteria for testing will also include those who show clear symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

Right now, he said, the best thing people can do is observe the recommendations by healthcare experts by practicing social distancing and maintaining sanitary conditions around the home and workplace.

“It’s hard, hard for everybody,” Holland said. “But we do have a real serious situation here, and some of the more vulnerable people in our society are at serious risk for this. We don’t want to sacrifice anybody in this effort. We want to help everyone, and it’s going to take cooperation from everyone to do that.”

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