Sandy Springs’ two adult hospitals – Northside and Emory St. Joseph’s – are outpacing other Fulton County hospitals in terms of beds available in case more are needed for COVID-19 patients, one consultant said.

“We track hospitals every day. These two hospitals are in better shape than the others within the county limits as far as availability of space,” said consultant Doug Schuster of Emergency Management Services International (EMSI), an emergency management firm working with the county.

Schuster and other heath officials provided updates on the coronavirus pandemic during the Sandy Springs City Council’s Aug. 4 work session, which was held virtually due to the outbreak. He said the city’s two hospitals have a combined 621 beds, with 431 in use and 190 (30.6%) available.

“Normal is 20 to 25%, and we set a warning if you ever go below 15%. We added 60 beds at the Georgia World Congress Center,” Schuster said of Gov. Brian Kemp’s plan to reopen surge beds for COVID-19 patients at the downtown Atlanta facility, with a total capacity of 120 beds.

Kemp opened 200 intensive care beds at the center in early May to deal with a surge of patients soon after the pandemic hit the United States this spring.

Schuster said after more Georgia residents and visitors were getting tested for COVID-19 due to the recent spike in cases, the number of individuals doing so has dropped in the past seven to 10 days.

“We don’t know why, but it could be because people were frustrated with wait times and backed up. … We look at hospitals and they haven’t seen a decrease or increase (in testing),” he said. “They’ve been testing about the same number of people every day for 21 days.”

Wait times may be the culprit.

“There’s been a lot of questions about the timing to get the results back since people have had to wait 10 days to get them back, and a lot can happen in those 10 days,” District 4 Councilwoman Jody Reichel said.

But Dr. Mark Swancutt, an infectious disease physician working with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security Agency, said those wait times have been reduced to as little as 36 hours since the labs handling testing caught up in July and other changes were made.

A web-based scheduling app called MS Dynamics, which Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director, has said allows clients to go online to schedule their own tests without having to use the call center, has helped speed up the process.

The wait times for results today are “36 to 48 hours for MS Dynamics, (and) LabCorp is under 72,” Swancutt said of two of the labs and apps the county and state works with on providing results.

“There might be some stragglers out there, but most will not be a week to 10 days,” he said, later adding each testing site is averaging at least 300 tests daily.

District 6 Councilman pointed out the city had set up a mobile testing site for Aug. 3, 5 and 7 and asked if it could do more to help with the issue.

“We do have a limited number of total sample kits that can be processed by a plant in the state of Georgia,” said Matt Kallmyer, director of the Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency. “We’re so happy we’ve been able to partner with the state of Georgia to increase sample processing by a third through a facility in North Carolina. We’re able to get 10,000 samples processed on any particular day… We’re working on an agreement with CORE (another lab company).”

Kallmyer said the deal with CORE would add five more mobile testing units, which would be installed at the county’s northern testing site in Alpharetta.

Regarding COVID-19 hotspots, he said there was one major one in Sandy Springs.

“Initially we had a huge hotspot in the Hispanic community by 400 and 285, and we were able to get some people tested there,” he said.

District 1 Councilman John Paulson asked what the most common way individuals are spreading the virus is.

“Most of the transmission from individual to individual is with family members or close friends who assume their family member is ‘safe,’” Schuster said. “… We have a lot of mandates within businesses to wear masks, but there is some transition outside of that with family members and friends. It’s not necessarily within supermarkets. I live near the BeltLine and I’m not afraid of (being on) the BeltLine, but I’m afraid for the people in tables outside where they’re close together and not wearing masks.”

Of the meeting’s 15 public comments, only one was read there since it was tied to a specific agenda item (under the city’s newly amended public comment policy regarding virtual meetings, the comments are entered into the meeting record and do not have to be read). But six were from individuals who said the city should have a mask mandate due to the pandemic.

At its previous meeting July 21, the council approved a resolution only encouraging mask wearing, and the city added to its website (www.sandyspringsga.gov) a list of businesses that require them.

Schuster said Fulton’s latest fatality surge projection update predicts 2,072 more deaths in the county as of Nov. 1 without a universal mask mandate and 647 with one.

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