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COVID updates: Two-state trends bring good, bad news

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 2:25 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - COVID-19 cases appear to be trending downward in both Georgia and South Carolina, but both states still have more people in the hospital right now than a year ago.

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, we’re even seeing cases drop in school-age kids.

Data shows the average number of new cases for children ages 5 to 9 is down nearly 40 percent.

For kids ages 10 to 17, it’s down by nearly half.

Even with the decline in cases, 84 percent of Georgia’s hospital beds are full. In South Carolina, it’s 86 percent.

During this same time in 2020, there were 6 percent to 11 percent more beds available in the two-state region.

According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, during previous surges in the pandemic, cases have risen first, followed by hospitalizations and then deaths.

Then they have also declined in that order.

But Assistant State Epidemiologist Dr. Jane Kelly says it’s too early to know whether we’re finally seeing an end to the surge in COVID cases that’s driven by the super-contagious delta variant of coronavirus.

How hospitals are handling surge

Hospitals in the CSRA are still full of COVID patients, mostly unvaccinated ones. Here’s a look at the local inpatient numbers as of Thursday:

  • Augusta University Medical Center: 109 inpatients, down 16 from Wednesday. The hospital said 99 of the inpatients are unvaccinated. Of the 40 in intensive care, 28 are unvaccinated. Of the 31 on ventilators, 30 are unvaccinated.
  • University Hospital: 120 inpatients, down 16 from Wednesday. The hospital said 105 of the inpatients are unvaccinated. Of the 25 in intensive care and 19 on ventilators, all but two are unvaccinated.
  • Aiken Regional Medical Center: 38 inpatients, down three from Wednesday. The hospital said only two of the inpatients are confirmed as vaccinated.
  • Doctors Hospital: 52 inpatients, down five from Wednesday.
  • Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center: Seven inpatients, four of whom are in intensive care.

Why S.C. health leaders haven’t ordered masks in schools

At a legislative subcommittee meeting Wednesday in Columbia, one South Carolina state senator asked DHEC Director Dr. Edward Simmer why the state Department of Health and Environmental Control does not order all schools to wear masks.

Simmer first noted that research has shown that masks do not harm children. He then said since they have public health order authority, they could order masks in schools. However, he says there are two reasons for not doing this.

First, he says he does not believe it is possible to write a statewide order that would apply appropriately to every school district.

Second, Simmer says as state law says school districts cannot use any state funds to enforce masks, he is not sure how he could enforce a mask mandate under that.

“Now, we have said that we would consider it, if an individual school district approached us, and we were convinced that the only way to require masks in schools was to issue that order, we would consider it,” Simmer said. “Not that we would do it, but we would consider it. But, it would have to be the last resort.”

Simmer acknowledged that he has seen school districts in the state have mask requirements and he says if schools are able to enforce public health orders on their own, DHEC, does not need to issue an order.

Also in the news ...

VACCINATION OPENINGS: Augusta University Health has scheduled COVID vaccination clinics daily next week at its Washington Square site, 2834 Washington Road. The clinics will be from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. In addition to first and second doses, booster doses will be offered for those who qualify. Appointments are available at https://www.augustahealth.org/vaccine.

NEW ADDITION: A new shelter is being added at Augusta’s Charlie Norwood Veterans Affairs Medical Center to be used as a COVID testing site at its downtown location. It will begin testing in October as another way they can help protect veteran patients and lessen the impact on the emergency department.

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