As the omicron variant of COVID-19 rages and depletes hospital space, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday he does not plan to implement any new pandemic restrictions to curb spread, saying he trusts Georgians to “do what is right for themselves and for their families.”
Instead, the Republican governor will deploy National Guard troops to support response efforts across the state and dedicate $100 million toward additional contracted health care staff.
Hospitals across Georgia — especially in metro Atlanta — have been inundated with COVID patients as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads rapidly throughout the population.
Statewide, more than 30% of COVID tests are positive and, in some areas, up to 40%. Recorded cases are hitting peak levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
Wednesday, the state reported 19,124 new cases. That’s greater than the population of 67 of Georgia’s 159 counties.
The sudden increase in Georgians seeking tests has overwhelmed the state’s testing resources, with many residents unable to either schedule appointments or find at-home testing kits.
“I just want to continue to reassure my fellow Georgians: we’ve gotten through this before — we will absolutely do it again,” Kemp said during a news conference. “We’re all in this together. We will work diligently to provide aid and cut down on people’s wait times at testing locations. But we want to urge Georgians to be patient.”
Kemp also pleaded with Georgians who are looking for a test to stay away from emergency rooms to keep from clogging up health care facilities for severe patients who need urgent care.
“Don’t come to the emergency room to get tested,” the governor said on behalf of hospitals.
Hospitals across the state are facing a staffing crisis as COVID-19 both increases their patient loads and sends health care workers home who are infected.
“This will be a challenge, really across the country, over the next two or three weeks,” Kemp said. “But as fast as this is moving, hopefully this will be a shorter lifespan than what we’ve seen in the past.”
The trend is being seen nationwide and has pushed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the number of days an individual who tests positive for the virus must quarantine.
The $100 million will cover up to 1,000 additional health care staff to help bolster Georgia hospitals that are being crushed by another wave of COVID patients, Kemp said. Hospitals can count on the extra support for 13 weeks.
As of Wednesday, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany — one of the country’s first COVID hotspots — was the only major hospital in the state not diverting patients away from its intensive care unit.
Kemp pushed back against the idea of implementing safety measures to curb spread like early in the pandemic and said he “trusts” Georgians to get vaccinated and take safety precautions.
“I will not be implementing any measures to shutter businesses or divide the vaccinated from the unvaccinated or the masked from the unmasked,” he said.
Georgia’s vaccination rate has hovered at 50% for months, with only 27% of the state’s population having received the booster shot.
Kemp is one of a coalition of Republican leaders across the country who have filed lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s vaccine requirements — part of a sweeping federal effort to increase vaccination rates.
This story comes to The Current through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.