COVID-19 roundtable in LaGrange briefly focuses on Chambers Co.

Published 8:00 am Saturday, April 11, 2020

A portion of a roundtable with healthcare experts Thursday in LaGrange briefly turned its attention to the rising number of cases in Chambers County.

The roundtable discussion Thursday morning featured WellStar West Georgia Medical Center President Coleman Foss, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, Troup County Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Crews and Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 Director Olugbenga Obasanjo.

Obasanjo specifically mentioned Chambers County, Alabama, which has more than 140 confirmed cases and eight deaths but is almost half the size of Troup County. Also, Chambers County borders Troup County at West Point.

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Obasanjo said he has reached out to Alabama health officials but hasn’t reached anybody. He said he would advise them to implement similar orders as Troup County and avoid congregate settings, like churches, as much as they can.

“That’s a significant part of the outbreak,” he said.

Foss said WGMC had seen several patients from Chambers County.

“I think we’re all trying to figure out how to manage Chambers County,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s a difficult situation for them, but we certainly have seen our share of folks from Chambers County, and from the West Point area come to the hospital.”

Foss said WellStar was expected to receive reagents on Thursday for a test that could get COVID-19 results back within two hours. He said Abbot Laboratories created the reagent, and the hospital hopes to have that test ready by early next week.

“Once again, there are not a lot of test kits,” Foss said. “It’s a limited amount, but if people are symptomatic, and they come to the ER, we’ll be able to get results much quicker than we had been in the past.”

He said when testing was first available in March, it was taking seven to 10 days to get results back due to the lack of testing sites. Currently, the hospital is down to about 48 hours, Foss said.

“That’s huge because obviously, if people have symptoms, they want to know what’s going on,

whether or not they’re going to have to self-quarantine or whether or not they’re going to be in the hospital,” he said.

Foss said the hospital is starting to see the coronavirus develop into what is called respiratory distress syndrome or advance respiratory distress. He said those are the ones getting the sickest and have to be on ventilators.

Obasanjo said Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to extend his shelter-in-place order to April 30 and the state’s public health emergency order to May 13 was in response to data from the public health department. Kemp’s order detailed many more restrictions on nursing homes and long-term care facilities throughout the state. He also put a temporary ban on short-term vacation rentals throughout the state.

Obasanjo said the majority of those affected throughout the state are in nursing homes and from short-term vacation rentals, so the governor is responding to that data.

“A single positive case of a resident in a long-term care facility or a staff member of long-term care facility is now considered an epidemic in that long-term care facility,” he said.

When someone tests positive in a nursing home, Obasanjo said resources are mobilized to transfer that patient out of the home, test the other residents and begin aggressive contact tracing. Obasanjo said the National Guard has also been helping in cleaning and disinfecting any affected sites.

Foss said WellStar owns two nursing homes in LaGrange — Florence Hand Home and Twin Fountains Home.

He said if the hospital discharges a patient, they have to be negative before they can go back to a nursing home. Even then, the former positive patient will go to a transition care unit within the nursing home so other residents remain isolated.

“We don’t want to have any positive cases in a nursing home that’s problematic on a number of different fronts,” Foss said.

At WellStar West Georgia Medical Center, Foss said the majority of patients are COVID-19 patients who are persons under investigation (PUI). As of Thursday, Foss said there are 11 patients on ventilators.

“That doesn’t mean that they are terminal or anything like that, it’s just helping them breathe through this situation,” he said.

The hospital has also converted some room into negative pressure rooms so ventilators can be run. Currently, Foss said the hospital can manage its patient-load and is equipped with personal protection equipment.

Troup County has over 50 cases as of Friday.