Camden sees first case, distancing encouraged

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A week after Camden began reacting to COVID-19, the county had its first confirmed case on Monday and hospital officials urged county leaders to take action to help slow the spread.

“If we see a large surge of patients consistent with the rate of spread in other affected areas, we — like any health system — will be challenged to bring to bear the appropriate staff, equipment and supplies to care for our community,” Southeast Georgia Health System officials, including CEO Michael Scherneck and Camden administrator Howard Sepp, wrote in a letter to county commissioners Tuesday.

The health system has performed coronavirus tests on 201 patients, received results for only 50 people because of nationwide delays, confirmed a case in one Camden resident — who was recovering at home Monday — and treated a Charlton County woman who also tested positive in mid-March at the Camden campus.

“(We) have cared for several patients under investigation as inpatients, meaning the patients have been tested for COVID-19 and we are awaiting results,” the letter reads. “We are using significant amounts of increasingly limited personal protective equipment, other supplies, equipment and staff to care for these patients.”

The health system has prepared additional negative pressure rooms, began gathering supplies and canceled all elective surgeries but could still be overwhelmed in a surge.

“If the transmission can be slowed, that will allow additional time for supplies, critical drugs and equipment to be manufactured,” the letter continues. “It will also ensure adequate ventilator and other respiratory support for patients that need it. Area business owners have kindly offered physical space to assist in caring for a surge of patients but without the appropriate staff, supplies and equipment, additional space alone would not allow the health system to sufficiently care for the surge of patients.”

County and city officials, along with state leaders, have taken several actions this week in line with the health system’s requests. Gatherings of more than 10 people have been restricted. A voluntary curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. has been implemented. Government offices have closed to the public. Bars have been shuttered and restaurants have been ordered to allow only carry out or delivery orders.

“We understand these parameters put strain on our citizens but the ramifications of inaction could results in catastrophic exhaustion of local hospitals and health resources,” Kingsland Mayor Grayson Day said in a letter to the community Tuesday. “By lessening interactions and reducing public gatherings, we continue to push the directive of ‘flattening the curve’ of influence this virus has on our citizens’ health and public emergency resources. We likely will see increased measures in the days to come as this epidemic is far from over and the possible strongest impact is likely just over the horizon.”

As those impacts continue, the Coastal Health District is encouraging residents to be both personally and socially responsible by working from home if possible, not gathering in groups of more than 10 people, avoiding any unnecessary shopping trips or social visits and otherwise maintaining social distance.