SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Local hospital leaders are pleading with the community to get vaccinated amid the area’s third COVID-19 surge.

The Coastal Health District (CHD) on Monday invited representatives from all major hospital systems in its eight-county area to share what they are experiencing on the front lines.

“The emergence of the delta variant combined with low vaccination rates is fueling a COVID-19 surge unseen since the beginning of the pandemic,” CHD stated. “Our hospitals are bearing the brunt of this dangerous combination.”

All of the doctors in attendance repeatedly said the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variant.

“We need to act now to prevent reaching a point where your community might not be able to care for you when the time calls,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, associate chief medical officer at Memorial Health. “If we act now, we can save lives, we can keep families whole and keep our communities healthy. The choice you make, you make for us all.”

Dr. Jeff Kenney, medical director of St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Emergency Department, acknowledged breakthrough cases but added that vaccinated COVID-19 patients are still better protected.

“Is it extremely effective at preventing hospitalizations, serious illness and death? Absolutely,” he said of the vaccine.

“At this point, you’ve had seven months, eight months of hundreds of millions of doses with safety, efficacy. Really, if you’re on the fence at this point, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for,” said Dr. Alan Brown, chief medical officer of the Southeast Georgia Health System’s Medicine-Brunswick Campus.

The health leaders shared some staggering statistics.

One month ago at Memorial Health, there were just 11 COVID-19 patients. Two weeks ago, that number was 36.

As of Monday, over 100 patients are hospitalized with the virus — the worst the hospital system has seen so far, said Dr. Thacker.

Meanwhile, this variant is sending more children to the hospital. CHD Director Dr. Lawton Davis said in the last two weeks, local cases in the 0 to 19 age group have increased 333%.

“This is literally a plea from your health care providers to get vaccinated,” Davis said.

“If you need a reason other than your own personal safety, then imagine your children and your family without you,” Dr. Thacker said. “Show them you care by getting vaccinated. Your choices matter.”

Chief Nursing Officer Donna Cochrane left Monday’s press conference early to return to an overwhelmed Liberty Regional Medical Center.

She said the 25-bed critical access facility is at 33 patients. Eighteen staff members, who have been vaccinated, are out with COVID.

“It’s trying times,” Cochrane said, appearing to get emotional. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years, and never have we seen anything like this.”

“Take the precautions,” she added. “If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for all of these others that are going through this.”

Recalling support felt earlier in the pandemic, including signs that read “healthcare heroes,” doctors said they need the community’s help to get through this surge.

“We felt the love and support and it helped carry us through those tough times,” said Dr. Kenney. “We need your support again. We’re asking for your help. Please wear a mask to protect yourself and others. And please get vaccinated.”

Hospital leaders estimate this surge of COVID-19 will peak the first week of September.