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AdventHealth Gordon in Gordon County, Georgia, updated its visitation policy Tuesday evening after an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases. Officials said the decision was made with the goal of keeping patients, team members and visitors as safe as possible for the duration of the current surge.

Just shy of three weeks ago, the hospital reported it was at 109% bed capacity. Now the ICU at AdventHealth is overflowing at 230% capacity.

According to the latest numbers provided by AdventHealth Gordon on Friday, 67% of patients at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, only 10% were vaccinated. Seventy-five percent of all patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at AdventHealth Gordon are on ventilators, based on the same data.

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Director of Marketing and Communications Garrett Nudd said the hospital's priority is always to provide the highest standard of care to the community while minimizing the impact of COVID-19. That is why, he said, the visitation policy was changed.

Under the new policy, COVID-19 patients will be allowed no visitors. Non-COVID-19 patients will be permitted one visitor each during their stay, though visitors must be over the age of 18, wear a mask or face covering at all times covering the nose and mouth, and are expected to stay in the patient's room for the duration of their visit. Visitors will not be allowed entry to the hospital for visitation at all if symptoms are present. Those who do not comply with the requirements will be escorted out and will not be permitted to return later for visitation.

Nudd said in a release on Tuesday evening that loved ones should attempt to use electronic devices and apps to keep in contact with COVID-19 patients wherever possible. In the event of an end-of-life situation, he said "every effort" will be made to provide an exception to the "no visitation" rule. No guarantees can be made at this time.

To the Gordon County community, which he said has taken great pains to raise the morale of local frontline workers through handwritten notes, homemade meals and handmade masks donated in their honor, Nudd had one plea on Wednesday — get vaccinated.

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"As our frontline caregivers are working tirelessly to battle the surge, we are seeing firsthand the effectiveness of the vaccine in minimizing the impact of COVID-19," Nudd said. "Please continue to wear masks in public spaces, exercise frequent hand-washing and use social distancing measures. We also encourage you to get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect yourself and those around you and to lessen the burden on the health care system."

In August, Gordon County Commissioner Bud Owens urged residents attending a Gordon County Board of Commissioners meeting to get vaccinated, noting that 98% of newly hospitalized patients in the county at the time had not taken the vaccine. He still thinks that is the most important thing.

"The reality is this virus is back with a vengeance and the only protection we have is common-sense usage of personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and sanitizers; frequent hand washing; and yes — vaccination," Owens said. "The vaccine is working. It doesn't prevent coronavirus but it is providing the human body with the ability to fight off the virus and hopefully will keep many from the hospital ventilators or the hearse ride to the funeral home."

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health's vaccine distribution dashboard, 31% of all Gordon County residents had been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday evening. The statewide percentage of fully vaccinated residents is slightly higher at 43%.

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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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