Dr. Craig Caldwell, left, and Dr. Jeremy Goodwin, right, get their COVID vaccine at Monroe County Hospital. (Photo/courtesy MCH)

Dr. Craig Caldwell, left, and Dr. Jeremy Goodwin, right, get their COVID vaccine at Monroe County Hospital. (Photo/courtesy MCH)

A surge in COVID cases means Monroe County Hospital, like most hospitals, is “totally full” this week.

Hospital CEO Lorraine Smith told the Reporter on Monday that the hospital’s 25 “med-surge” beds are full. While the hospital doesn’t technically have an ICU (intensive care unit), Smith they’re having to take care of patients who need intensive care because of the shortage of ICU beds around the area. 

“All ICUs in the area are completely slammed full,” said Smith.

Smith said of the 25 patients currently at the hospital, 11 of them have COVID-19. Smith said COVID varies from patient to patient. Some get oxygen and medications and are able to go home within a few days. A small minority decline rapidly and must be put on a ventilator. Monroe County can do that, but prefers to move those patients to a dedicated ICU at a bigger hospital as soon as possible, said Smith.

Smith said Middle Georgia hospitals have an on-line tracker that keeps up with any open hospital beds in the area. But the data changes rapidly, said Smith.

Smith said Monroe County Hospital has also had a lot of staff getting COVID, although she said very few of them seem to be contracting the virus at work. She said staff treating COVID patients does not treat non-COVID patients to prevent spread.

“Everybody has a healthy respect for the virus,” said Smith.

Smith said the current surge in cases was predicted as people gathered for the holidays.

“Everybody’s over it,” said Smith. “You want to be with your family. As the fear lessens a little, people want to see friends and family. It was predicted that after the holidays, it would be bad.”

Thankfully, said Smith, the hospital was able to give about one third of its staff the COVID vaccine last week. She said they’re staggering vaccinations of employees so that if they do have side effects it doesn’t put the hospital in a staffing bind.

While it’s currently tough, Smith said she sees brighter days ahead.

“I think the current spike will be the last big one,” said Smith. “With the vaccine coming in, we’ve probably got a couple more weeks of it being bad and then we’ll be on the downside. The more people that get the vaccine the better. And then we can all throw our masks in the air like graduation.”

Smith said once all hospital employees have been vaccinated, the hospital will open it up for the public to get it.