Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state’s Department of Public Health said at a press conference in late August that she did not believe oxygen supplies in the state had dwindled to a critical level, but some Forsyth County residents are noticing the effects of the shortage.
Forsyth County resident Rosa Fite’s husband Edgar has pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that gets worse over time and makes it difficult for those affected to breathe due to scarring in the lungs and uses oxygen tanks and a concentrator daily.
“This is a life and death situation,” said Rosa. “If you can’t get your oxygen, it’s bad.”
Rosa said that her husband has gone from getting “from 16 [oxygen] tanks to two.”
Gov. Brian Kemp made an executive order in late-August to allow more weight in transportation and extended driving hours to allow for more equipment to get to hospitals to fight COVID-19.
Dr. John Delzell, vice president and incident commander for Northeast Georgia Health System in Gainesville, recognized that there has been a shortage on medical supplies in hospitals, including oxygen tanks.
“We are extremely grateful to the governor for his continued responsiveness to the challenges all health care providers are facing at this time,” Delzell said. “He has previously supported our need for beds, our continued need for staffing, and most recently, our need for timely and dependable shipment of oxygen and all the supplies we need to care for patients.”
While Edgar has access to a continuous flow while “hooked up to a concentrator,” which filters oxygen molecules from the ambient air, Rosa said the oxygen tank shortage is still “concerning.”
“We’re fortunate enough that as long as we’ve got electricity, we can stay hooked up to the concentrator here at home and [Edgar] can get his oxygen,” she said. “But you just don’t hear about this [impact] on TV or something.”
“But I just think people need to be aware that everything any one of us does can affect other people’s lives,” she said.
Rosa believes the shortage is related to hospitals using more oxygen tanks for COVID-19 treatments.
“Because of people who are filling up the hospitals with COVID-19, because they didn’t get vaccinated, they are using more oxygen on ventilators,” she said. “We just never thought we’d be in this situation, and it’s a bit of a scary one.”
Northside Hospital Forsyth treated an average of 91.7 COVID-19 patients a day the week of Sept. 17-23, 2021, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. That’s down from an average of 110 COVID-19 patients a day the previous week.
Delzell said the increased patient load has “put an increased demand on supply.”
“That increased demand requires more frequent deliveries, and we know how challenging that can be for our suppliers,” he said.
Rosa encouraged others to learn more about the “unheard” repercussions of not getting vaccinated.
“I just think people need to be aware that everything any one of us does can affect other people’s lives,” she said.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reported that there were 916 positive and active cases of COVID-19 in Forsyth County between Sept. 11 and Sept. 17. The previous week, Sept. 3-10, there were 942 cases in the county.