GA to Spend $100M to Boost Hospital Staffing, Deploy Guard Troops Amid Record COVID Cases

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that the state would dedicate $100 million and 200 National Guard troops to help health care professionals overwhelmed by a recent dramatic increase in the state's COVID-19 cases.

The governor said the money could provide hospitals with up to 1,000 more personnel for the next 13 weeks. This is something Georgia hospitals desperately need at the moment, as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was 2,400 as of Wednesday, with 80% of ICU spots currently filled.

Kemp added that half of the National Guard troops will assist medical personnel in hospitals. Others will help at testing sites.

Georgia has been experiencing record highs in positive tests for the virus this week, breaking its record on Tuesday with 13,670 cases, then re-breaking the record Wednesday with almost 20,000 cases. This brings the state's weekly average up to almost 11,500 just weeks after a period of rates below 1,000 cases per day.

Many of Georgia's hospitalizations have been concentrated in Atlanta, the state's capital. Data showed that 25 Atlanta-area emergency rooms had to turn away ambulances on Tuesday, while only six were able to take more in. Several emergency rooms in the cities of Atlanta, Rome, Carrollton, Columbus and Augusta surpassed 100 percent capacity.

"This will be a challenge really across the country over the next two or three weeks," Kemp said at a news conference. "But as fast as it's moving, hopefully this will be a shorter life span than what we've seen in the past."

Katie Byrd, a spokesperson for Kemp, said in a statement that while Kemp does not plan to implement any vaccine mandates, he encourages Georgia residents to talk to their doctors about the benefits of the vaccine.

Georgia, Brian Kemp, COVID-19 vaccine
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that $100 million and 200 National Guard troops would be dedicated to helping hospitals overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state. Above, David Wilson, left, an emergency room nurse at Memorial University Medical Center, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from R.N. Lisa Lynn as Kemp, right, looks on outside of the Chatham County Health Department on December 15, 2020, in Savannah, Georgia. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

This fifth wave has surpassed both an early January peak and the Delta wave that roared through Georgia as schools opened in August and September.

The state Department of Public Health and hospital officials urged people not to go to emergency rooms just for COVID-19 tests.

Infections and hospitalizations have been centered in the Atlanta area and parts of north Georgia so far.

Deployment of the 200 troops will begin January 3. The Department of Public Health, additionally, is expanding staffing at COVID-19 test sites and working to secure a new testing site near Atlanta's airport, Kemp said.

But the Republican governor reiterated his opposition to mandates, saying he will not be implementing any measures that shutter businesses or divide the vaccinated from the unvaccinated or masked from the unmasked.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.