Tanner Health System’s CEO told the governor on Wednesday that COVID-19 cases are trending up as officials are preparing for a potential surge in Carroll County.

Loy Howard, president and CEO of Tanner Health System, and other hospital officials across the state got an update from Gov. Brian Kemp on Georgia’s fight with COVID-19 and they discussed how local health systems are dealing with the virus.

Howard told Kemp that the health system is, in general, overwhelmed. But that does not mean that Tanner is incapable at this time of taking care of any patients.

On average, Loy said, the number of COVID-19 patients in the Tanner Health System was in the 60s and 70s — higher than what most of the other CEOs were reporting.

One of the large concerns Howard reported to the governor was staffing, which was a common thread among the other CEOs.

The health system is also preparing for another potential surge in Carroll County, Howard said.

In an interview with the Times-Georgian on Wednesday, Howard explained further that officials are anticipating a potential “surge” of cases, or an increase of cases in the region, factoring in different things such as more cases due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We’re ready for a potential surge,” said Howard.

As part of this preparation, officials have been adding capacity and looking at alternate care locations, such as taking care of patients in a cardiac catheterization lab.

After learning from experience in March and July when there were large influxes of cases, officials prepared and made sure that staffing levels were as high as possible.

“We realized that we needed to be sure that we were able to get all the staff that we possibly can and so Deborah Matthews really led that effort,” said Howard.

Matthews is Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Tanner, and she explained to the Times-Georgian that, as of Wednesday, the health system has 50 COVID positive patients spread between all five hospitals, and there are 16 patients that are suspected to have COVID and are being treated as such.

While the volume of cases are high, Howard said that the good news is that there are not as many severe cases, such as patients in the ICU.

One other change is that patients are spanning across all age groups, and health officials are seeing patients both with and without comorbidities, which are medical conditions occurring at the same time as the primary condition, in this case, COVID-19. Howard added that they are seeing the average age decline.

“Just no prediction as to who is going to be positive,” said Matthews.

When it comes to staffing, Matthews said that there are approximately 900 nurses in the system and an additional 75 “agency nurses,” or nurses on three-month contracts.

“We’re not overwhelmed like we’re not able to take care of everybody, but we are seeing volumes and needs greater than we’ve seen in any recent memory,” said Howard.

Howard also used the term “overwhelmed’ to describe the state of the healthcare workers who have been battling the pandemic since March, and who, at the end of 2020, are facing wear and tear from working so long.

And while the number of COVID-19 patients is certainly high, that’s not all the healthcare workers are dealing with at the moment.

Matthews said that currently mask wearing has helped curb the flu season, but health officials are still treating a large influx of patients that are a combination of both COVID patients and patients with non-COVID issues.

“In fact, that’s the majority of the people were taking care of — people with heart disease, diabetes and complications of diabetes and other types of illnesses, and deliveries and outpatient surgery and [those] recovering from inpatient surgery so it’s just like it’s a really busy time,” said Howard.

Howard said that there is a silver lining, referring to the imminent vaccines being developed. Howard said the pandemic will end with the community receiving the vaccine.

“If there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, it’s the vaccine,” said Howard.

“And wear your mask in the meantime,” added Matthews.