With hospitalizations matching or surpassing their prior peaks, doctors and nurses from coastal Georgia’s hospitals are pleading with people to get vaccinated.

This story also appeared in Georgia Public Broadcasting

Doctors on the Georgia coast on Monday pleaded for people to get vaccinated immediately as COVID-19 cases skyrocket.

All along the coast, the number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 is at or above the highest numbers ever seen, including last year’s spikes. Doctors said it will keep getting worse. 

The vast majority of those hospitalized are not vaccinated.

“It’s lunacy that we are having to drag people out of their own harm’s way and make them realize that the vaccine is going to save their life,” said Dr. Alan Brown, the chief medical officer at Southeast Georgia Health System.

Glynn, Camden counties

At that system’s two hospitals in Glynn and Camden counties, 112 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Sunday, surpassing the July 2020 peak of 98.

Of that 112, 36 people are in the intensive care unit, and just 11 of the total were vaccinated, including two in the ICU. That’s less than 10% of the COVID-19 patients.

“Our health care system is completely overwhelmed with COVID patients,” Brown said, adding that SGHS has had to cancel elective surgeries and endoscopies in order to have enough nursing staff to care for critically ill coronavirus patients.

“And we’re still climbing,” he said. “So, you know, I don’t know where we’re going to be in a week. I don’t know if we’re going to have field hospitals.”

Savannah-area facilities

Doctors from Savannah’s hospitals also described an overwhelmed system. 

Dr. Jeff Kenney, the medical director of the St. Joseph’s Hospital Emergency Department, said ICU beds are filling up, leaving patients to wait in the emergency department for ICU space. That means longer waits for emergency care at the ER.

He and the other doctors pleaded with people to get vaccinated.

Just 32% of people in the Coastal Health District are vaccinated, even though the vaccines have been proven safe and very effective at preventing infection, serious illness and death. 

Memorial Health Associate Chief Medical Officer Stephen Thacker called that figure “inadequate.”

“We find ourselves here today, physicians and providers from across our region pleading with those we serve to listen to the stories of these lives lost, family scarred and hospitals stressed,” he said. “Really imploring our communities not only listen to the science, but also listen to those same doctors who have been here for you when you broke your arm, the same ones that were here for you when your spouse had a heart attack and the same ones that were here for you when your father or mother had a stroke.”

The number of hospitalized people has climbed fast.

One month ago, on July 8, SGHS had 14 COVID-19 patients. There were 41 patients two weeks ago. That’s an eightfold increase in the past month.

The story is similar at other hospitals in the region.

At Memorial Health in Savannah, the number of patients admitted with COVID-19 jumped from 11 on July 9 to 36 two weeks ago to a high of 102 Monday, according to Thacker.

Memorial’s previous peak was 78 patients.

Savannah’s other main hospital system, St. Joseph’s/Candler, has matched the July 2020 high of 97 COVID-19 patients at its two hospitals. 

Effingham Health System also has increasing COVID-19 patients and dwindling beds. The hospital has been “at higher capacity than any time in recent history,” according to a spokesperson. The ER was full Monday morning, and over the weekend saw 103 COVID-19-related patients.

Liberty County

Liberty Regional Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Donna Cochrane said Monday that she currently has more patients than beds. In the 26-bed critical access hospital, the census Monday was 33 patients. Eighteen staffers were also out with COVID-19.

“We are tired,” Cochrane said. “We’re at wits’ end. The staff is overwhelmed taking care of your community, taking care of your family, possibly watching them die. This is something we have never seen before.”

Her voice full of emotion, she urged people to get the vaccine.

“If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for all of these others that are going through this.”

This story comes to The Current through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.