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ICU doctor describes 'medical war' as new record set for hospital patients

Georgia has exceeded 10,000 COVID-19 related deaths. That's not even counting the 1,130 people who had symptoms, but never received a PCR test to confirm the virus.

If you ask Dr. James Bailey to put COVID-19 in one word, this is what he will say: war.

“It’s a war of my generation. The medical war. And just as we mobilized our nation for World War 2, the nation needs to be mobilized for this war,” said Bailey, worn out from long hours and a seemingly never-ending caseload of COVID patients.

When it comes to the virus, the United States keeps breaking records. On Wednesday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins, 3,865 people died with COVID, which is the highest number of deaths in a single day since the start of the pandemic. 

According to COVID Tracking Project, the U.S. also hit a new record for people receiving hospital treatment, 132,476.

Georgia is no exception. On Wednesday, the state also broke its record for 5,431 active hospital patients.  That means 611 people, the most ever on a single day, woke up and realized they couldn’t fight the virus without medical help. 

“We are really close to, close to the edge. Close to the limit,” emphasized Bailey, who works at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.

RELATED: Georgia surpasses 10,000 COVID-related deaths

Bailey said he is treating twice as many patients as normal, even though the hospital has doubled the number of physicians on staff. 

On Thursday, the health system, which openly shares all of its data online, reported treating more COVID patients than ever before. 

“It is the greatest public health crisis of my career,” said Bailey. “When you see that kind of human devastation you want those numbers out there for the community so they can see this is real.”

Hospitals across the state report patients in hallways, some even treated in ambulances, because there is no room inside.  Bailey found one of his patients in a ward meant for new moms.

“I couldn’t help but wonder how other people who just had a baby would feel about the idea there’s a COVID patient just down the hall from them.”

RELATED: Coronavirus in Georgia | Latest data for Jan. 7, 2021

Across the state right now, a third of all hospital patients are being treated for COVID. 

When you zoom in closer you find hospitals stretched even more thin. In Cobb and Douglas, the state reports 39 percent of patients have COVID. In Hall county, it’s 44 percent.

“That causes an inevitable erosion to do absolutely the best for every patient,” added Bailey.

RELATED: City rolls out COVID-19 vaccination plan for Atlanta's first responders

11Alive reached out to other health systems to see how they are responding to the surge in patients. Piedmont Healthcare said its found about nine percent of all COVID cases result in hospitalization, so as cases increase, so does hospitalization.

In a written statement a spokesperson said the following:

Our staff, though stretched and tested in previously unimaginable ways, is committed and resilient. We are encouraged by the arrival of vaccines and continue to vaccinate our workforce at all 11 hospitals as quickly as we can.

Across the entire health system, we continue to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19, especially as the country experiences this third surge. Each of our hospitals reviews available resources daily related to current COVID volume, and where possible, we continue to shift resources as needed to maintain appropriate capacity—as we have since the pandemic began in March.

Until COVID vaccines are widely available to the public, which remains several months away, it remains critical that we continue to mask up, wash our hands, maintain social distancing practices, and stay diligent in our fight against COVID.

Bailey said the same holds true at Northeast Georgia Health System, but if the ICU beds are full and a person gets into a serious car crash, it doesn’t matter whether he or she has COVID. Their care will be impacted.

“You could be one of the people being cared for in the ambulance bed.”