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Poole spells out growing concerns over county wide COVID surge at BOC Work Session

AMERICUS – Sumter County EMA Director Nigel Poole expressed his growing concern over the growing county wide surge of COVID-19 Delta Variant cases at the Sumter County Board of Commissioners’ Work Session on Tuesday, August 10 at the Sumter County courthouse.
The BOC had planned to open the courthouse chamber to the public so that citizens could attend the BOC’s work sessions and regular meetings like they were able to do before the pandemic started in March of 2020.  However, due to the recent surge of Delta Variant cases, the BOC decided to continue to keep the chamber closed to the public and continue to broadcast its monthly work sessions and regular meetings to the public by way of Zoom.

“We’ve had a 505 percent increase of COVID cases in Sumter County from the last two weeks,” Poole told the BOC. “Our number, as of yesterday (Monday, August 9), was 53 active cases. We haven’t been this high in COVID cases since January 2021.”

Poole went on to say that the Delta Variant is running through the community pretty handily and that Phoebe Sumter Medical Center has had to dispatch mobile units to take care of patients because they have no beds available in the ER and are on full diversion. “We are seeing numbers that we haven’t seen in a long time,” Poole said. “We (Sumter County EMA) are meeting weekly every Tuesday at 2 p.m. I encourage our Commissioners to attend those meetings. We’re getting lots of information form the hospitals, from our healthcare providers and from our other government entities. We are not under a State of Emergency any longer, so requesting items from GEMA is a question at this time.” Poole went on to add that when the county was under a State of Emergency due to the pandemic, he could request 500 masks and GEMA would have them delivered that same week, but at the present time, there are questions as to whether necessities such as masks will be delivered.

“I did have a request from Phoebe Sumter Medical Center today (Tuesday, August 10) for six stretchers, or beds,” Poole said. “I was thankful to see that that request was assigned and they are working on trying to fulfill that request.”

Poole continue his speech before the BOC stating that he wants to encourage local citizens to get vaccinated if they haven’t already done so. “We are seeing definitive numbers that the vaccinations are proven to cause patients to have a shorter stay in the hospital if they do contract COVID,” Poole said. “We are seeing that the hospital is full of unvaccinated people right now. I’m just trying to get that information out to the public…trying to get mobile vaccination sites up and running and we’re working hard on trying to keep us all together and on the same page.”

Board Chairman Mark Waddell asked Poole what the current death toll is as a result of the current surge. Poole replied that the numbers of COVID-related deaths are staying about the same. Poole told the BOC that he had asked Phoebe Sumter officials what the average stay is for someone that has been diagnosed with COVID.

“They said that the average length of stay for someone who is unvaccinated is about 10 days and for the vaccinated people who do have COVID, that length of stay is about six to seven days,” Poole said. He added that Phoebe Sumter is doing what is termed Monoclonal Antibody Infusions, which is what the mobile units are for. “That’s seems to be having a pretty good response to this too,” Poole said.

Commissioner Clay Jones asked Poole what the average age range of the COVID patients who are in the hospital. Poole replied that the average age use to be in the 60s, but that it has gone down to 53. “We’re seeing a lot younger people than we did in January,” Poole said. He also stated that Sumter County currently only has a 38 percent rate of vaccinated citizens. Waddell remarked that he had heard that 86 percent of the COVID cases in the county are amongst people who are unvaccinated. Poole replied to Waddell that what he had heard is accurate. “It is once again proving that the science and the math adds up,” Poole said. “People who got the vaccination are not getting as sick as people who didn’t.” Commissioner Jesse Smith asked if there was any type of funding from the American Recovery Plan (ARP) that can be used to incentivize and encourage people to get the vaccine. Waddell replied that if there were such funding, they would have to go back and give the incentive to those who have already been vaccinated. Waddell mentioned that the federal government was using “leave funds” at the end of last year. These funds were used by the federal government to pay employees who get sick as a result of COVID-19 up to 10 days leave, but that program ended on December 31, 2020. Waddell added that he didn’t see the justification of paying the COVID Leave Fund for 10 days because it would have to be done for every single person. Waddell added that the unvaccinated can be encouraged to get vaccinated, but he didn’t think there are funds available to use a COVID Leave Fund or any other monetary incentive to entice people to get vaccinated. “What would that amount be to do it if we did that,” Waddell said. Commissioner Clay Jones stated that he had heard of other boards of commissioners of other counties giving incentives to county employees who got vaccinated. Commissioner Scott Roberson remarked that the vaccine is free and that if people were monetarily compensated for taking the vaccine, those who were already vaccinated without any monetary incentives would then wonder why they didn’t get an incentive to get it. “To me, I wish there were incentives for us to do it,” Waddell said.

Poole also added that he has herd talk of a possible booster shot needed later on. “I’m not making any suggestions right now. I just want to bring this to your attention to let you know that it is something that may be upcoming,” Poole told the BOC. “There may be the need to reactivate the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) here on Adderton St. for a mass vaccination site again as we did back around June or July of this year.” Poole went on to say that in a meeting that he was in, he learned that Israel is giving its citizens a booster shot and that the U.S. Government and the CDC are both watching closely to see if this is something that might need to be done here in the United States. “They’re saying that after seven months, the antibodies kind of lose their potency,” Poole said. “People who have had their vaccination early on seem to be losing those antibodies for the Delta Variant, so there may be a need for that. It’s nothing definite yet. Just wanted to give you all a heads up.”

Sumter County Sheriff Eric Bryant, who was also at the work session via Zoom, told the BOC that it is important to get the word out to the citizens of Sumter County who may not have internet access as to where the vaccination sites are located and suggested that using the Code Red platform might be a way of doing it. Poole added that CE Minerals is doing a vaccination program for the citizens of Andersonville.

In other news from the BOC Work Session, the BOC unanimously approved an amendment to Resolution Number 221-002. This resolution memorializes the Sumter County Board of Commissioners’ funding and allocations to the Sumter County Coroner. This resolution basically deals with moving the body cooler from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. The BOC voted unanimously to approve this resolution.

Here are other resolutions that the BOC voted unanimously to approve at the work session:

  • Approval of the Resolution amending Americus-Sumter County Comprehensive Plan 2017-2027 by adoption of a Broadband Internet Service Element
  • Approval to move forward with issuance of solid waste bonds for remediation of closed Sumter County Landfill
  • Approval of 2020 LMIG Close-out Documents
  • Approval of filling a new Real Property Appraiser 3 position