Georgia lawmakers discuss federal resources for Albany’s COVID-19 cluster

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- The COVID-19 outbreak has hit the greater Albany region harder than anywhere in the state of Georgia – and it’s been singled out as one of the most severe clusters of the virus in the country. So far, Phoebe Putney Health System confirms more than 2,300 total cases of the virus, a staggering number for a small community. Across the system, 105 patients reportedly died of the virus. Washington Correspondent Alana Austin reports on how Georgia leaders – and Washington DC – are fighting this crisis.

Health care workers are on the scene helping Albany, GA area patients battle suspected cases of COVID-19. (Source: Phoebe Putney)

“First off, we were not prepared for this. I don’t think anybody in the country was prepared for it," said Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA).

Bishop says Southwest Georgia is united in tackling the coronavirus crisis, from the health-care workers, to the local and state leaders, to the churches stepping in to help.

“I have to commend and thank God for the volunteers who have done so much for so many," said Bishop. "I think while we all wish that we could have done more, I believe that what we have done is the best that we could, under the circumstances.”

FEMA is assisting to help communities - it is partnering with the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency on the front-lines. So far, the federal government says it sent Georgia at least 220 ventilators, 1 million N95 respirators and 1 million gloves. And, FEMA deployed disaster medical assistance teams, which includes 39 health care workers, including doctors, nurses and first-responders to Dougherty County.

Just this week, a FEMA spokesperson also confirms it sent equipment to Georgia to decontaminate 80,000 respirators a day for healthcare workers and first responders to reuse up to 20 times.

“It makes you proud to be an American, Alana, when you see people helping each other," said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) during an interview with Gray DC bureau Correspondent Alana Austin.

Perdue says Congress has approved more than $175 billion dollars for hospitals, and the Cares Act included an additional four million dollars for Albany Area Primary Health Care.

“Health care is at the center of our communities," said Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA).

Loeffler says leaders must continue monitoring the financial health of hospitals. She and her husband recently donated a million dollars to the Phoebe Foundation.

“We’re all in this together, everyone is making sacrifices," said Loeffler.

Now, Congress is weighing whether to send money to distressed state and local governments. Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the needs could add up to a trillion dollars. Initially, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed reservations about a bailout for states and localities, but bipartisan talks are now underway among Congressional leaders to strike a deal.

Phoebe Putney hospital system reports 105 died so far of the virus since they began reporting these fatalities in mid-March. But for the first time in weeks, the hospital system now reports it is currently caring for about 100 coronavirus patients, showing the surge in cases may be reversing.

A statement Thursday from Phoebe Putney hospital system adds: “Even as our COVID-19 numbers trend in the right direction, we continue to increase our capacity to care for COVID-19 patients. We are pleased the state’s new drive-through COVID-19 testing site that opened in Albany on Sunday seems to be working well. Yesterday, we only swabbed 24 patients in our Albany drive-through collection site. As we announced yesterday, we will be closing down that site at the end of the day today as the state takes over testing in our area. Phoebe will continue to provide testing at many of our clinics, and we will administer rapid tests for any patient being admitted to the hospital,” said Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney Health System Chief Executive Officer.

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