'In the midst of our surge': Chatham County's COVID cases rise more than 480% over 1 week

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Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

COVID-19 cases have increased more than 480% over the past week in Chatham County, according to data compiled by the Coastal Health District, due largely to holiday gatherings and a more infectious omicron variant, doctors and specialists say.

Between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31, COVID-19 cases in Chatham County jumped from 132 cases to 639 cases.

This spike differs from previous post-holiday spikes in two key ways: more people have received vaccines and booster shots and the more transmissible omicron variant is less severe because it does not infiltrate the lungs like the delta variant, said Dr. Stephen Thacker, Memorial Health University Medical Center's associate medical officer and a pediatric infectious disease specialist.

Omicron variant impacts

As of Monday, Memorial Health had admitted 35 patients with COVID-19 infections, which is a “far cry” from the last resurgence in July-August, according to Thacker.

Then, Memorial had admitted about 180 patients with COVID-19, the vast majority due to the delta variant. However, with many residents having traveled and gathered during the Christmas and New Year's holidays coupled with the infectiousness of the omicron variant, Thacker expects a “rise in hospitalizations over the next three to four weeks.”

According to Thacker, Memorial has 585 total hospital beds.

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

St. Joseph's/Candler Health System is also seeing a "higher volume of patients due to a number of factors including the flu and patients seeking treatment for COVID symptoms," according to spokesperson Scott Larson, who emphasized that the system's emergency departments do not provide COVID-19 testing. He encouraged people to seek out dedicated testing centers.

“While the omicron variant appears to be more infectious, it is showing milder symptoms such as fever, cough, fatigue, runny nose, and congestion without shortness of breath,” said Larson. “The good news is that because of the milder symptoms, there are far fewer hospitalizations than in previous spikes, although we have seen an increase in pediatric hospitalizations. Despite breakthrough cases, the vaccine is demonstrating that it is effective in keeping most patients out of the hospital.”

Antivirals available

As infectious disease specialists discover more variants, alternative treatments could alter the COVID-19 landscape.

The Department of Public Health, according to Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Health District, has made 2,000 total doses of two COVID-19 oral antiviral medications, Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, available at four location in the region, including Savannah, Richmond Hill, Brunswick, and Midway. The drugs are administered only by prescription from a healthcare provider and for non-hospitalized patients who have tested positive, are experiencing mild-to-moderate COVID-19 disease, and who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 infection because of underlying medical conditions.

As doctors work to find new treatments, Davis urges people to remain cautious.

“I think we are in the midst of our surge,” said Davis. “It is very very contagious. I urge people to avoid crowds. I would consider masking up again, especially if you're going to be indoors.”

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: 'In the midst of our surge': Chatham County's COVID cases rise more than 480% over 1 week