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COVID today: Why some still get seriously sick and hospitalized

Helena Oliviero and Stephanie Lamm, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

Georgia hospitals are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients after a slight surge over the holidays.

Four years into the pandemic, we are in a much better place.

“We talk all the time about not wanting to relive those earlier days,” said Dylan Glass, a registered nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “During the height of the pandemic, every patient was severely ill with COVID. We are not seeing that as frequently, so it makes it a bit easier to cope with and manage.”

Two years ago in early 2022, when The Atlanta Journal-Constitution visited Northeast Georgia Medical Center, 18 of the 24 beds in the intensive care unit (ICU) were filled with COVID patients. Under a maze of machines, tubes, and wires, patients wrestled with everything from dangerously low oxygen levels to heart problems to organ failure. Some were on the brink of death.

Today, far fewer people are dying or becoming seriously ill because vaccines and prior infections have bolstered their immunity and reduced the severity of illnesses. At a visit to the hospital on Feb 5, only three of the ICU beds were filled with COVID. And many of the hospitalized COVID patients only tested positive after being admitted for other reasons such as cancer surgery or appendicitis.

The latest preliminary data on weekly COVID deaths in Georgia show 14 COVID deaths for the week ending Feb. 3. Data from January, which is considered more reliable, shows around 50 COVID deaths a week in Georgia.


The number of new COVID hospitalizations in Georgia for the week ending Feb. 3 totaled 740, down from 834 the week before, marking an 11% drop.

Back in September 2021, shortly after vaccines became available and a more contagious variant, delta, was circulating, there were a staggering 995 deaths during the week ending Sept. 4, 2021. And the peak of new COVID hospitalizations for Georgia was 5,600 for the week ending Jan. 9, 2021.

There are more treatment options today. And while the current omicron variants are considerably more contagious than prior variants, Northeast Georgia Medical Center doctors said they do not attack the lungs as aggressively as those earlier strains. But COVID remains a threat, especially for those who are older and who have weakened immune systems.

The AJC recently returned to the ICU and interviewed Glass and infectious disease physician Dr. Supriya Mannepalli about how the coronavirus has changed and how sick patients are managed now. The following is a Q and A with Mannepalli. Some of her comments were edited for length and clarity.


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