The Gainesville area has become Georgia’s new coronavirus hot spot. Northeast Georgia Health System and the Good News Clinic are testing Hall County adults and children for COVID-19 at two drive-through testing sites. One of the sites is shown here. (PHOTO by Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Gainesville nurse dies after contracting COVID-19

A Gainesville nurse has died after contracting COVID-19 and spending weeks in the hospital, according to Northeast Georgia Health System.

The nurse, Deb Stevers, worked in the progressive coronary care unit of the system’s Gainesville hospital, treating cardiac patients who needed close monitoring. Some of the symptoms seen in coronavirus patients include cardiac issues. Stevers treated some patients who had COVID-19.

She tested positive in April and later was hospitalized in critical care, treated by her fellow employees.

“It’s terrible,” said Richard Lamphier, president of the Georgia Nurses Association. “It’s a devastating example of what we’re dealing with with this war with COVID-19. If somebody coughs, sneezes, has respiratory issues — that direct exposure is to the front line nurses.”

Stevers had worked at the system for 15 years.  

At least two other Georgia nurses have died after being infected with the coronavirus, and three other health care workers also have died.

The latest death is a marker of Gainesville’s status as the state’s new hot spot for the coronavirus.

The Gainesville area’s economy rests partly on chicken processing plants that have been a center of the outbreak. Hundreds of poultry workers statewide have tested positive.

Northeast Georgia Health System has 113 workers who have tested positive, said a spokesman, Sean Couch. That represents about 1% of the system’s 9,000 employees, he noted.

The system said in a statement that Stevers wore protective gear in line with federal guidelines, and that  the hospital takes careful infection prevention measures.  Workers are given protective masks, but must continue to re-use some of them due to nationwide shortages.

Officials at the hospital indicated that it was difficult to tell how Stevers got infected because COVID-19 is prevalent in the community as well.

Two Georgia nurses died in March from the infection: Mark DeLong, 53, who worked at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, and a nurse at Piedmont Henry Hospital.

Earlier in March two other health care workers died of the infection. Piedmont Newnan Hospital mammogram technician Diedre Wilkes, 42, was found dead in her Coweta County home, with her 4-year-old son present, and a 48-year-old woman who worked at Donalsonville Hospital in southwestern Georgia died at a Tallahassee hospital.

On April 1, Bill Gilbert, 78, a respiratory therapist who worked at Wellstar Paulding Hospital, died.

The group National Nurses United said that more than 100 nurses nationwide have died.

Lamphier said the important things to take away from this — for both people and facilities that employ health workers — is to follow recommended guidelines for safety from the coronavirus. Hospitals must protect workers with gear, and people must wear masks, wash their hands, and keep social distance.

“Some people are adhering. Others may not be adhering by the guidelines,” Lamphier said. “I think what we see, what nurses see on the front lines, the seriousness of it, is not necessarily what everybody else sees. That’s the part that can frustrate us as nurses; we know the end result of not adhering by the guidelines.”

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