However, multiple experts disputed the idea that knowing the number of asymptomatic patients would be relevant for PPE projections. In facilities like nursing homes and jails — both of which were accounted for in the Georgia estimates — asymptomatic individuals could spread the virus if not quarantined immediately.
“Because there’s not on-the-spot, point-of-care testing available for the most part, you have to use PPE throughout the hospital all the time,” said Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “In this day and age, you just have to presume that everyone has COVID.”
When the state’s case count began surging in March, many COVID-19 patients treated at Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton, Georgia, needed ICU-level care and were from nearby Dougherty County, a Georgia hot spot where hospitals were quickly overwhelmed.
“There were times to which we were down to only having a few days of PPE left,” said Dr. Kaine Brown, a physician and medical director at Tift, adding that the hospital was partly saved by donations of N95 and cloth masks. Gowns were the biggest problem. PPE supplies have since improved — as of early July, the hospital had stockpiled more than eight months’ worth of surgical masks and enough N95s and gowns to last six months and about three months, respectively.
Georgia’s stay-at-home order for most residents expired April 30; it remains in place for individuals at higher risk of severe illness.
“We were very apprehensive about [easing restrictions],” Brown said. “Those of us who had been working on the front lines knew how infectious this was.”
Since May, Georgia has reopened a broad swath of businesses. In early July, more than 1,000 health care workers signed a letter to Kemp urging him to institute a statewide mandate requiring face coverings, to close bars and nightclubs, and prohibit indoor gatherings of more than 25 people. Georgia currently bans gatherings of more than 50 people if social distancing cannot be observed.
State officials say PPE supplies have “greatly improved” since the start of the public health emergency. As of Aug. 14, the state had distributed 3.9 million N95s, 13.1 million surgical masks, 36.6 million gloves, 4.6 million gowns and 1.6 million face shields, among other items, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Early on, Georgia also relied on donations to bolster PPE supplies when many items were unattainable through normal supply channels, which have since become more reliable.