New COVID-19 variant likely causing uptick in South Georgia cases

New COVID-19 variant emerges in south Georgia
Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 6:30 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) -The new COVID variant known as XBB 1.5 has been impacting hospital systems in and around southwest Georgia.

COVID-19 has been going on for a while now, first coming to the public’s attention in late 2019 and early 2020. But is it really gone? Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital leaders say they have seen an increase in cases within the last month at Phoebe Main in Albany and serving 21 COVID-19 patients on Wednesday.

Dr. James Black, Phoebe Main’s interim chief medical officer, says they have a number of COVID patients. However, the new variant is spreading throughout other Phoebe campuses.

“As far as admissions are concerned, over the past couple of weeks, we have seen a steady increase. Right now, we are carrying 30 people in the health system, about 21 here. Eight in Sumter and one in Phoebe Worth. But again, those numbers are nowhere near the previous peaks we have seen, but we are keeping our eye out on this variant and the amount of cases we are getting,” Black said.

Infection Preventionist Charlotte Griffin from Tift Regional says it was around the holidays when she first noticed an increase.

“We did see a slight increase between Christmas and New Year’s where our hospitalized numbers had been in the single digits for a while. We did get in the mid-teens for a few days but those numbers have gone back down. We are currently back in the single digits in terms of hospitalized patients,” Griffin said.

Both experts agree this new variant is not as aggressive as previous ones. They say to continue practicing good hygiene and washing your hands.

There are several hospital systems in Southwest Georgia still dealing with COVID that’s after a new variant has emerged.

This new variant is spreading rapidly. Even infecting some of our own here at WALB. We spoke with health experts on Wednesday that said the new variant is not as strong as when the virus first appeared.

“So I did contract COVID back at the beginning of 2022 last New Year’s around time. It was a huge difference. The symptoms were a lot more aggressive. I spent three days in bed with a fever, headache, sore throat. The experience was honestly a nightmare, and wasn’t great,” WALB Sports Director Aaron Meaux said.

The symptoms range from sore throat, fever, and often flu-like symptoms. XBB 1.5, can sneak up on you. Symptoms might feel the same, but the variant is not as aggressive.

South Georgia hospitals are ready to tackle this variant. Even if a surge of cases were to happen.

“First, I hope we don’t see the numbers we’ve seen in the past, but we have learned from those and better prepared than 2020. We have developed a respiratory care unit and specialized to treat COVID and flu, so that they are not with rest of patients,” Griffin said.

“Now one of the fortunate things is that people aren’t dying at the same rate, but I would like to caution that people are still succumbing to the disease. It’s not harmless, but it’s certainly more infected and more easily spread than previous variants,” Black said.

The biggest theme learned from both health experts and those who’ve had it is that this new variant is not as aggressive as it was before. Suggested practices include washing hands, and masking up.