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Friday marks 2 years since Phoebe’s first COVID-19 patient

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Published: Mar. 11, 2022 at 7:42 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - On March 11, 2020, the first COVID patient in Albany was discovered.

It happened a few days before the patient was admitted. This was because there was a lack of testing at the time and a lack of suspicion that the patient might have had the virus.

On Thursday, Phoebe announced that due to low spread and low infection, they will move all Phoebe North COVID-19 patients into Phoebe Main. A sign that the worst is behind us, but Dr. James Black, medical director for emergency services for Phoebe, says he isn’t treating this news like the pandemic is over.

“Two years has obviously flown by in the blink of an eye but we certainly didn’t expect we’d still be having this conversation when we had the first patient,” Black says.

Albany was one of the first and hardest-hit communities in the United States. That gave Phoebe less time to prepare for what COVID would do.

”The sense was that we would get an opportunity to see how the larger areas, the metropolitan areas, may deal with it. We never thought we’d be early entries to the pandemic,” Black says.

Dr. Black says he remembers a time when taking off a day for rest made him feel somewhat guilty. Guilty because of the lives he could have saved if he came in. Now, he says, doctors are much better at keeping tabs on their mental health

”We had to learn how to take care of each other because it was day after day after day,” he says.

It’s only recently that doctors have felt comfortable going out to dinner or going to see their close relatives.

”Just a few weeks ago I saw my grandmother for the first time in two years,” says Dr. Shawn Hall, an ICU Nurse Manager for Phoebe.

Friday, Phoebe has 25 COVID-19 patients total, from all of its locations. That number is down 87% since the Omicron surge at the start of the year.

”There’s cautious optimism because where is stable as we have been since the beginning. We’re going to consistently be worried that’s something is going to be right around the corner,” says Hill.

Restaurant industries have adapted to the changes that the coronavirus forced them to make. And some of those changes, they’re going to be permanent.

“We were one of the first industries hit and we got hit hard,” BJ Fletcher, BJ’s Country Buffet owner says.

Bj's Country Buffett implemented new sanitary protocols they plan to keep post-pandemic
Bj's Country Buffett implemented new sanitary protocols they plan to keep post-pandemic(WALB)

She’s only seeing 70 to 80% of what she did pre COVID-19, but she says the number is still going up, but she still notices staffing being a big issue throughout the industry. She says she’s tried her best to keep an environment so employees want to return to work, which all of them as she says.

Two years ago, most didn’t have that choice to work. Dougherty County leaders like Chris Cohilas had to make the decision to shutter some business doors. So I asked him if he regretted the initial decision to shut down.

“I don’t think that there’s any way to go back and armchair quarterback what we were doing back then. It was the right call at the right time,” Cohilas says.

From that day, businesses had to adjust their practices.

Fletcher decided to put up more screens so people couldn’t sneeze into the food. She also opened up takeout for her buffet.

“We have to figure out what we did right what we did wrong. I started hearing people say ‘I hope you keep this because I like the fact that someone can come in and handle the spoon before me or they don’t have a chance to play in the food or touch the food.,” Fletcher says.

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