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‘Super surge’: Atlanta doctor braces for COVID-19’s worst days
Dr. Colleen Kraft
Dr. Colleen Kraft shows a face mask during a video briefing on coronavirus at Emory University Hospital on April 3, 2020.

ATLANTA – Denial, fear, anxiety and worry have been the constant companions of Dr. Colleen Kraft and her colleagues at Emory University Hospital in recent weeks.

Coronavirus has pummeled the physical resources and mental toughness of hospital staff, and the patient “super surge,” as Kraft describes it, has not even arrived yet.

“We have all collectively and individually gone through that grief cycle,” said Kraft, an associate chief medical officer at the hospital who gave a video briefing for reporters Friday.

As of noon Friday, more than 5,800 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic. It has killed 184 Georgians.

Hospitals are grinding across the state under the reality of dwindling amounts of protective gear and bed space for critically sick patients. State health officials say the peak period for hospital capacity is likely still three weeks away, on April 23.

At Emory, hospital workers who have been battling the highly infectious virus for two months now are “definitely gearing up” for an even tougher fight ahead, said Kraft.

In-house lab work is now turning around diagnostic test results in 24 hours. Local universities are making 3-D face shields to help reuse protective masks. The hospital has purchased 50 new ventilators. And Emory staff are figuring out flow plans for moving patients to free up the most space possible in anticipation of the coming surge.

Still, the thought of what the rest of this month could bring is daunting.

“It’s been a difficult time of preparation to think about how we haven’t hit the peak yet,” Kraft said.

But Kraft, who was part the university hospital’s Ebola treatment team in 2014, said the statewide shelter-in-place order set to start Friday at 6 p.m. should lessen the stress for hospitals like Emory if it helps slow transmission rates of the virus.

Gov. Brian Kemp ordered the loose statewide shutdown a month after the first people in the state, a father and son from Fulton County, tested positive for the virus.

Restaurants, bars and other common social spots will shutter through April 13, per the order, while grocery stores and other businesses can largely remain open so long as patrons and workers can keep at least six feet apart from each other.

“As we take the fight to COVID-19, I’m asking Georgians to hunker down, follow the directives we’ve issued and help us flatten the curve,” Kemp said Thursday.

Through the struggle, Kraft has also witnessed daily acts of strength and courage at Emory. Teamwork, she says, has kept up their spirits as staff clean their face masks with ultraviolet radiation and it remains a toss-up for how many new masks, gowns and gloves there will be whenever the latest supply shipment comes.

“What I’ve seen personally is on the days that I’m not feeling best, there’s someone there to lift me up,” Kraft said. “I think we’re focusing on trying to be a team and breaking down as many silos as possible.”