'A community crisis demands a community response'

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Camden has 23 confirmed coronavirus cases in the third week since the first positive was reported, according to the noon Wednesday update from the Coastal Health District.

Statewide, there were 14,987 cases and 552 deaths at noon Wednesday. Some of those numbers may shift to different counties as state epidemiologists use geolocation to match addresses to counties and correct errors from manual entries.

The Coastal Health District has also partnered with Southeast Georgia Health System, medical students and various law enforcement agencies to expand contact tracing and offer drive-thru testing.

“A community crisis demands a community response, and public health has faced no greater crisis in recent history than the COVID-19 outbreak,” district risk communicator Ginger Heidel said in a release last week. “Fortunately for the residents of coastal Georgia, several community partners have joined with the Coastal Health District to increase public health’s capacity to respond.”

One of those partnerships is with third- and fourth-year medical students from Mercer University and the Medical College of Georgia who were finishing their semesters and wanted to help. About 50 students are now helping the district’s four full-time epidemiologists and other staff with in-depth contact tracing on every positive case. There are now 310 cases and eight deaths in the eight-county district. The students are working in shifts to interview each patient by phone, gather information about their contacts and notify their close contacts.

“One key to limiting the spread of COVID-19 is ensuring that infected individuals don’t spread the virus to others,” Heidel said. “… The epidemiology office calls each individual with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to begin an investigation, which includes creating a list of close contacts who may have been exposed. One lab-confirmed case can lead to dozens of phone calls to notify these close contacts and offer guidance.”

The health department is also running drive-thru testing sites in Glynn and Chatham counties. These sites are not open to the public. Anyone who visits for testing must be referred by a doctor and have a “person under investigation” number. Nurses from Southeast Georgia Health System and medical students are collecting the samples as law enforcement officers from seven different agencies manage security and traffic.

“Early in the crisis it became clear that testing resources needed to expand around the state,” Heidel said. “Across Georgia, public health districts have set up drive-thru specimen collection sites where doctors can send patients to have their nasal passages swabbed for testing. The drive-thru model is quick and efficient, with a reduced risk of spreading infection because patients stay in their cars.”

The health department expects to test more people at these sites as lab capacity increases and more kits are available.

District and state case numbers are updated at noon and 7 p.m. daily at covid19.gachd.org and dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report.