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First patients moved into Laurelwood gym COVID-19 overflow area Wednesday
Northeast Georgia Health System has set up cots in a gym at its Laurelwood facility Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, as the system sees a new record of COVID-19 patients and is running out of space. The first patients began moving into the space on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

The first patients were moved Wednesday, Dec. 16, into overflow space in a gymnasium on the campus of Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, according to Northeast Georgia Health System officials.

The health system began setting up the overflow space at Laurelwood, a behavioral health facility, last week.

Wes Garrison, NGMC’s associate chief nursing officer, said the overflow area was functional on Monday, Dec. 14, and the system was placing patients around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Garrison said the overflow section would primarily be used for patients who are still COVID-19-positive but are experiencing less severe symptoms and may be waiting to be transferred to another facility.

“Sometimes because they are positive, we are delayed in being able to transport back to their original place of origin, whether that’s a nursing home or some kind of long-term facility,” Garrison said.

There are currently 16 cots in the gym, which has the capacity to build out to 30 cots, if necessary, Garrison said. He said there is no estimated length of stay for patients who would be moved to this area.

NGHS reported Wednesday there were 262 confirmed COVID-19 positive patients being treated across its facilities with another 37 patients awaiting test results. NGHS’ record was set Monday, Dec. 14, when there were 265 patients.

According to the data, there were 47 available beds across the health system Wednesday, with 27 available beds at the Gainesville campus and 16 beds at the Braselton hospital.

Garrison said he was hopeful that the overflow area would allow health care workers to keep more of the beds inside the hospital campuses for patients needing more critical care. 

In a statement on Thursday morning, Dawson County Fire and Emergency Services announced to county residents that all hospitals in the region are either at capacity or near to capacity. Warning that anyone needing hospital treatment shouldn't count on being treated at their local hospital and should expect longer wait times to be admitted. 

Dawson County News Editor Alexander Popp contributed to this report.