Anderson's deadly coronavirus problem has grown exponentially 'to the limits'
AnMed Health officials are struggling to deal with a rapid rise in COVID-19 patients, many of whom are critically ill.
The number of COVID-19 patients at AnMed Health Medical Center in downtown Anderson soared from 6 to 62 during a three-week period that ended Friday, hospital CEO Bill Manson said.
"That gives you some idea about what's happened with this after relaxation of general safeguards after Memorial Day and then the spread of COVID-19 in the community and the impact of that on admissions," Manson told Anderson City Council members Monday. "That is really pushing our surge capacity."
The hospital's 19-bed intensive-care unit is full, which prompted officials to create another eight-bed intensive-care unit, said Shaunda Trotter, AnMed Health's vice president for nursing. More than half of the COVID-19 patients being treated in those units are on ventilators, she said.
Manson said one COVID-19 patient on a ventilator had to stay in the hospital's emergency department for an extended period last week because "we didn't have a critical-care bed for that patient."
Plans have been made to open a third intensive-care unit to accommodate an expected increase in patients after the July 4th holiday.
Manson said the hospital also may be forced to curtail elective surgeries. He said his staff is evaluating whether they have beds for five patients who are scheduled to undergo heart surgeries this week.
AnMed Health serves Anderson County and parts of Pickens, Oconee and Abbeville counties, as well as a portion of northeast Georgia.
Spike in active COVID-19 deaths, cases and positive tests in Anderson
Council members were not told Monday that state health officials have reported eight COVID-19 deaths in Anderson County during the past week. Those people account for 40% of the 20 COVID-19 deaths that have been reported in the county since the coronavirus pandemic began several months ago.
The number of active COVID-19 cases in the four zip codes that cover parts of the city of Anderson has more than doubled since June 29, rising from 127 to 264, according to data that Anderson County Emergency Management Director David Baker presented to council members.
Baker also said 56.4% of the COVID-19 tests administered in Anderson County came back positive on July 2. On July 6, 48.6% of COVID-19 tests were positive in Anderson County, Baker said.
Those figures are more than twice as high as the state's top one-day percentage of positive tests.
AnMed Health is operating a drive-through testing site at its north campus on East Greenville Street for patients with a physician's referral. In April, the site was testing 30 to 50 people per day, Manson said.
"This week the number of patients going through that drive-through testing has exceeded 200 daily," he said. "We are really struggling to keep up with that."
AnMed Health took part in three recent community events where more than 2,000 residents were tested for COVID-19.
"We have had to stop scheduling community testing right now because the state doesn't have the testing resources and we don't have the testing resources to do that," Manson said.
AnMed chief urges city officials to adopt mandatory mask measure
To help curb the COVID-19 outbreak in Anderson, Manson urged council members to pass a "very strong ordinance" requiring residents to wear masks when they go out in public.
He said such a measure could help "bend the curve on this thing and take it back to where it was in control and not straining medical resources to the limits."
Council members rejected an emergency mask ordinance earlier this month, opting instead to approve a resolution encouraging residents to wear masks.
City Manager David McCuen told council members Monday that his staff has launched the biggest marketing campaign in the city's history to promote the use of masks. As part of the Anderson Strong Promise effort, he said, the city has passed out 11,000 masks this month.
Two council members said they still believe an ordinance requiring residents to wear masks is needed.
Councilman Rick Laughridge said young people aren't taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously.
"How can we get through to these people other than telling them to do it?" he asked. "We have to do something."
Councilman Tony Stewart said the city has an obligation to pass a mask ordinance to help AnMed Health.
"We always praise our firefighters and our police — those first-responders. The hospital people are our first-responders as well," Stewart said. "And I think we owe it to them to take a very hard look at what we can do to keep them safe."
In an interview after Monday's council meeting, Mayor Terence Roberts said he believes more residents in the city are wearing masks.
Asked if he would support a mask ordinance, Roberts said, "We'll have to wait and see."
Kirk Brown covers government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @KirkBrown_AIM