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Two die from coronavirus at Phoebe Putney in Albany

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Two people in Southwest Georgia have died after contracting coronavirus and receiving treatment at a local hospital in Albany, hospital officials confirmed Wednesday.

The deaths increase the total number of known fatalities traced to COVID-19 to three in Georgia so far. The state Department of Health reported 197 positive cases have been confirmed within 28 counties across the state as of noon Wednesday.

The two deceased patients were being treated at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, which has seen an influx of coronavirus cases in recent days. In a news release, hospital officials said 23 people have tested positive for the respiratory virus as of noon Wednesday while more than 400 others are awaiting the results of their tests.

The hospital’s chief medical officer, Steven Kitchen, said to expect more positive cases and deaths as the virus spreads within Georgia communities.

“Unfortunately, more deaths are likely to occur, and we will certainly see more positive cases as we receive more test results,” Kitchen said. “We strongly urge everyone to heed warnings and practice proper social distancing. We need to do all we can now to try to slow the spread of the virus.”

Hospitals and senior-care facilities across the state are encountering serious challenges as they work to isolate potentially infected persons and face dwindling supplies of single-use equipment like gloves, gowns and masks.

The workforce demands involved in treating patients – and in a few cases health-care staff – infected with the virus have started to tax many Georgia hospitals. The nonprofit WellStar Health System has been screening, testing and treating patients among its 11 hospitals. One patient, a 67-year-old man with underlying health conditions, died last week at WellStar’s Kennestone hospital in Marietta.

In Rome, Redmond Regional Medical Center has treated five patients with coronavirus, two of whom have returned home, and as of Tuesday afternoon was awaiting test results for 20 other patients. Cases have also been confirmed outside metro Atlanta at hospitals in Cartersville and Augusta.

Other hospitals that have not seen any positive cases of coronavirus have begun gearing up for the increased demands on supplies that could come with patient treatment. Those hospitals preparing for cases range from Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton to Habersham Medical Center in Demorest to the large Memorial Health in Savannah.

Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday the state expects to ramp up diagnostic testing to 200 tests per day, aided by a boost in tests from commercial labs. The governor has also directed health officials to pump thousands of gowns, masks and other supplies into local hospitals by tapping into the national stockpile.

Doctors and public health specialists are urging people with symptoms of the virus to first call their personal doctor, the local health department or an urgent care center before driving to the emergency room. The impromptu ER visits reduces medical supplies and stresses the healthcare sector’s already overtaxed workforce.

“Not every individual who wants to get tested can be tested because of limited supplies,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner. “We want to test those individuals at highest risk.”