As the highly-contagious Delta-variant rips through Georgia and hospitals face a surge of COVID patients amidst staff shortages, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday that he would not implement a statewide mask mandate or any shutdowns to slow the spread.
However, he announced $125 million in new funding for struggling hospitals to secure more staff and bed space for ailing COVID patients. He also urged all eligible Georgians to get vaccinated as soon as possible, noting that more than 90 percent of all coronavirus hospitalizations in Georgia are among the unvaccinated.
“The most important thing for Georgians to do at this point, if you’re not vaccinated, is to please talk to your doctor or medical professional or someone that you trust that perhaps has been vaccinated and make a good health care decision for you and your family,” said Kemp during a press conference on Monday afternoon, Aug. 16.
Georgia has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, hovering around just 39 percent. The Georgia Department of Public Health reported more than 14,000 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend and more than 60,000 new cases in the last two weeks. Morgan County has reported 131 new cases of COVID-19 in the last two weeks. According to the New York Times tracker, Georgia is averaging more than 5,700 new cases per day and 4,400 new coronavirus hospitalization per day.
Kemp will not mandate that healthcare workers or state employees receive coronavirus vaccinations, but is giving all state employees the day off on Sept. 3 in hopes that many of them will opt to get vaccinated.
Kemp dismissed any suggestion of requiring masks in schools or shutting down businesses to thwart the spread.
“Georgia will remain open for business. We will not shut down...I think letting the schools deal with that individual situation that they have is better than a one-size-fits-all, overarching policy from the state or the federal government,” he said.
According to Kemp, the $125 million in new funding will be used to secure 1,500 hospital staffers and provide 450 new beds for coronavirus patients in nine regional hospitals across the state. Kemp said that funding will provide 1,500 staffers to hospitals at a moment when medical centers across the state are understaffed.
According to Megan Morris, director of public affairs and community relations for Morgan Medical Center, the hospital officials have not yet been informed in the new funding will benefit the hospital. Morris noted the the Morgan Medical Center has five of the beds filled by COVID patients as of Monday, Aug. 16 and has an experienced a dramatic influx of people seeking COVID testing in recent weeks.
“We remain diligent in enforcing our COVID protocols…checking temperatures, masking when inside the facility, and restricting visitors,” said Morris. “We have been able to increase our cleaning protocols between patients with the help of our LIGHTSTRIKE Germ-Zapping robots that are brought in behind our environmental services team members to do a final clean using UV technology. They are able to eliminate 99.99 percent of SARS-CoV-2.”
On the state-level, health officials are imploring the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s health department director, appeared with Kemp at Monday’s press conference, stressing that Delta-variant, the mutated strain of the coronavirus, is twice as contagious, currently causing a 90 percent increase in new cases.
Toomey also noted that Georgia hospitals are filling up with younger unvaccinated people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who have contracted the Delta-variant of the coronavirus. Toomey said that Georgia is working on making testing for the coronavirus even more accessible and will offer a third booster shot for those who are severely immunocompromised.