A hospital staff member tests for coronavirus at a drive-up test site at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany in March 2020. (Photo courtesy of Phoebe Putney)

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the Albany-based hospital that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, will start using the antiviral drug remdesivir to help treat patients with severe health issues from the respiratory virus.

The South Georgia hospital is one of eight in the state to receive initial shipments of the drug that arrived from federal officials last week. The hospitals picked to receive the drug are among the most affected by COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic.

State health officials received 30 cases of the antiviral drug in the initial shipment last week that contained 1,200 vials capable of treating roughly 11 patients, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. A larger second shipment has also been sent to Georgia and will be distributed sometime this week, health officials said.

Phoebe Putney quickly became the COVID-19 outbreak epicenter in Georgia outside the Atlanta area as the virus sent waves of people to the hospital. While admissions for COVID-19 have declined in recent weeks, the hospital was treating 82 patients for the virus as of noon Tuesday. To date, 122 patients with COVID-19 have died at Phoebe Putney.

“Remdesivir is the first drug shown through clinical research to be a potentially helpful tool in the treatment of COVID-19,” said Steven Kitchen, Phoebe Putney’s chief medical officer. “It certainly is not a cure, but it does appear to reduce the severity and length of the illness in some patients.”

Produced by the California company Gilead Sciences Inc., remdesivir was granted emergency-use authorization earlier this month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after a clinical trial that found the drug likely can help treat severe cases of coronavirus, such as patients who are on ventilators.

The drug has not been formally approved for use by the FDA, but the clinical trial found it may reduce a seriously ill person’s chances for dying and the amount of time needed to stay in a hospital. It was originally developed to treat patients who contracted the Ebola virus.

Other hospitals in Georgia that have received vials of remdesivir include Tift Regional Medical Center, Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Grady Health System, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown and Augusta University Medical Center.

As of noon Tuesday, more than 38,600 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the state. The virus had killed 1,649 Georgians.