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Just days after nearby Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, Georgia, reported "exponentially increasing" numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, public health officials at AdventHealth Gordon and Gordon County leaders are urging the community to help slow the spread by getting vaccinated.

As of Monday afternoon, there were 40 coronavirus patients being treated by AdventHealth Gordon nurses and staff. Of those positive patients, spokesperson Garrett Nudd said, 36 were unvaccinated and 10 were in the intensive care unit. Of those in intensive care, eight were on ventilators.

Perhaps most concerning, Nudd said, was the growing number of patients waiting on hospital admission. Ten were waiting as of Monday, and the hospital was at 109% bed-use capacity at that time, he said.

(READ MORE: Dalton Public Schools to require masks for students seventh grade and under)

AdventHealth Gordon has been at capacity off and on since at least January of this year, and with the steady increase of hospitalizations in Gordon County and the surrounding region, Nudd said he expects to see it remain that way for the foreseeable future.

He said patient care is being taken as seriously as ever and that staff members are being treated with particular care, given the increased stress and strain placed on them by months of strenuous and "emotionally taxing" work.

Gordon County residents are not unaware of the burden COVID-19 has placed on AdventHealth Gordon, he said. Many have donated handmade masks and volunteered time delivering them to the hospital.

Since the start of the pandemic, groups of hundreds of community members have held socially distanced events in the parking lot to honk horns, cheer for staff and pray for those working on the front lines. Free meals have been provided to nurses and doctors by community businesses, and students in both the Calhoun City and Gordon County school districts have shown their appreciation for the hospital's staff by writing kind notes later delivered to those working on the COVID ward.

While Nudd said all of those things help to boost the morale of staff, he encouraged residents to get vaccinated if they truly want to help. Gordon County Commissioner Bud Owens urged the same this week at the Gordon County Board of Commissioners meeting, noting that "98% of new hospitalized patients" have not taken the vaccine.

(READ MORE: Tunnel Hill man charged with obstruction after missing man found dead in Whitfield County)

"I implore our citizens to take the time to research for yourself the facts of this vaccine, not the junk — the politics — and the misinformation that is being spread, not the advice from a well-meaning friend on Facebook or some conspiracy theorist from across the country," Owens said. "There are reputable places with factual information so you can learn the facts. Please listen to the scientists and experts, pray and ask God to open your eyes, talk to your doctor that you know and trust. Please make the decision to do this for your family, your friends, yourself. Make the decision to live."

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health's vaccine distribution dashboard, 35% of Gordon County residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday, and 30% of residents have been fully vaccinated.

While the percentage of fully vaccinated residents statewide is higher at 42%, Georgia still ranks near the bottom of the list of state vaccination rates. In Northwest Georgia as a region, the divide is even greater.

(READ MORE: Five-year-old son of Whitfield County deputy dies of COVID-19)

Out of all seven counties in Northwest Georgia, Whitfield County boasts the most fully vaccinated residents as of Thursday with 35% of its population having received both doses of vaccine. Murray and Walker counties have the lowest number of fully vaccinated residents in the area with 28% and 26% respectively.

Vaccinations are still free for everyone, and identification is not required when getting vaccinated.

For more information on how to get vaccinated in Northwest Georgia, visit nghd.org or nwgapublichealth.org. Contacts for other COVID-19 vaccine providers in the area are available at vaccines.gov.

Contact Kelcey Caulder at kcaulder@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @kelceycaulder.

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