Southwell is taking steps at its facilities to prepare for a post-holiday surge of COVID-19 patients. Southwell includes Tift Regional Medical Center (TRMC) in Tifton and Southwell Medical in Adel.

Southwell has already upgraded to Level Orange, meaning that only one visitor is allowed for non-COVID patients in most cases. According to officials, Southwell has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 tests within the health system’s outpatient settings over the past week. TRMC currently has 12 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

“COVID infection rates within our community are already starting to spike, so we went to Level Orange to help minimize the potential spread of COVID to our patients and staff,” said Dr. David McEachin, Chief Medical Officer for Southwell. “This will help us maintain operations and hopefully not have to stop any elective services.”

According to the CDC, the COVID-19 Omicron variant will likely spread more easily than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. A surge in COVID cases is expected nationwide after the holidays. As of Dec. 30, the seven-day average for positive COVID-19 tests in Georgia was 8,809.

“The new year will start the same way it did on Jan. 1, 2021, with the U.S. fighting a pandemic,” said Dr. McEachin.

As cases rise, the CDC said the Omicron variant accounts for more than 70 percent of all new cases. The difference, Dr. McEachin emphasized, is that the Omicron variant may result in no symptoms or only mild symptoms. With some patients, it can still result in serious illness.

“Predictions are that most new cases will be Omicron,” said Dr. McEachin. “Omicron appears to be less virulent, meaning people are less likely to become seriously ill. But, it is also thought to have greater risk of spread from one person to another. This is different from previous variants. So far, persons infected with Omicron are not as likely to require hospitalization, especially people who are vaccinated. Let’s hope this remains true and medical centers don’t get overwhelmed with hospitalized patients.”

Dr. McEachin encourages everyone in the community to get vaccinated and consider the booster shot.

“Also, wear a mask, encourage friends and family to consider vaccination, and socially-distance from others,” he said.

Southwell’s visitor policy and other COVID-19 information can be found at www.mysouthwell.com/COVID-19 .