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'We can't sit back and watch that happen': COVID-19 cases jam Houston County hospitals as surge continues

As cases rise and hospitals are full, Houston Healthcare has requested help from the National Guard. Houston County leaders are left figuring out what to do next.

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — Houston County's COVID-19 cases continue to surge after the holidays and the hospital is asking help from the National Guard.

Perry Hospital made it through nine months without having a single COVID-19 patient because there was still room at Houston Medical Center.

That's not the case anymore.

On Wednesday, Houston Medical Center had 115 COVID-19 patients. Last week, they had 86.

In just the last three weeks, Perry Hospital has gotten close to 15 COVID-19 patients, which is taking up all of their beds.

"Our ICU is full. Our med-surge is full," says April Albritton, Head of Nursing at Perry Hospital.

RELATED: 'We're full': Central Georgia hospital issues dire warning as COVID hospitalizations hit new peak

She says they did see this coming.

"There has been such a surge in the community, so we did anticipate that we would see this surge. We're adequately prepared for it. We're able to handle them."

As Robins Air Force Base upgrades health protection conditions and the county is averaging 74 new cases a day, Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms and other county leaders are figuring out what happens now.

"How do we keep our people safe? I mean, that's always the number one priority."

He says they are waiting to see if Governor Brian Kemp expands his emergency orders.

"If there's any indication that the governor is moving in that direction, and if not, then we may have to do that locally," says Toms. 

He says whatever they decide, Centerville, Warner Robins, Perry, Houston County and Robins Air Force Base will have similar plans in place to minimize any confusion. 

He says if nothing comes down from the state, they will look back at what they had in place in March and April.

"I think we would go back to when our orders first started coming out, late March, early April and see what we did then and see what makes sense and do it now."

Toms says it is clear that large gatherings during the holidays are a big part of the problem.

"I think that is something that we do need to look at. The size of the gatherings," he says, "Because the hospitals getting inundated is not going to help any of us at all." 

For now, their cases just keep rising.

"We can't sit back and watch that happen because more and more people fall victim to this virus."

Kevin Rowley with Houston Healthcare says they have requested help from the National Guard, but they are waiting to hear back from Governor Brian Kemp's office. He says they need more clinical staff to help man their surge capacity beds. 

Rowley also says the pediatric unit at Houston Medical Center has been temporarily converted to a COVID-19 unit.

Albritton says despite the rush of patients, morale is high.

"We're maintaining. With staff, there's a lot of anxiety because of the recent surge, but our goal here is to take care of patients."

One thing is clear, this pandemic is not over yet.