More COVID-19 testing, new hospital beds coming to prepare for surge

By: - April 14, 2020 6:53 am

Gov. Brian Kemp said Monday that Georgia is increasing access to COVID-19 testing, adding new hospital beds and providing help to senior care facilities to prepare for an expected surge in hospital patients at the end of April. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Georgia is adding more hospital beds, new access to COVID-19 testing and expanding its watch over senior care facilities as state officials warn a crush of hospital patients is coming when expected peak health care demand hits near the end of April.

Gov. Brian Kemp Monday announced plans to open hundreds of new hospital beds as the state, its universities and health care industry work to contain the spread of the disease. State health officials said as of last night the COVID-19 outbreak in Georgia caused 480 deaths, 2,702 hospitalizations and 13,621 confirmed positive tests.

While other governors are now looking ahead to restarting their economies, Kemp said his priority is to prepare for the expected spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia.

“Everybody’s trying different things, some are working, some are not and I think we got to be nimble in the days ahead,” Kemp said. “But we do know we’ve got to do this and that is we have got to have enough hospital beds when we reach our peak. We got to do more testing, and we’ve got to continue to focus on our long-term care facilities.”

Monday evening the state counted 2,617 emergency room beds, 929 critical care beds, and nearly 6,000 general hospital beds available. State officials are racing to open 200 beds in a makeshift hospital inside the Georgia World Congress Center and scanning the landscape for new coronavirus hotspots.

Piedmont Hospital in Midtown Atlanta is opening a new wing early to add more beds available during the expected surge of COVID-19 patients in late April. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Soon, the state says it will send new health care support to COVID-19 hot spot Albany, as well as Rome, Macon and Gainesville. Piedmont Healthcare’s 132 new beds at its new Marcus Tower at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital will come on line months early to provide another relief valve. The state also is contracting with Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital for reinforcements.

The state has enough beds to handle some model projections for the COVID-19 outbreak at its expected peak in a couple of weeks, said Georgia Adjutant General Tom Carden.

“When you look at the upper bound range of the current models, we’re not in such great shape,” he said. “And so in looking at that and comparing it with the governor’s mission statement that he gave us as a team, and that is to make sure that no Georgian suffers from the lack of being able to get to the appropriate level of medical care.”

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey models her mask after a Monday press conference. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Not only is the state lab gearing up to provide testing of up to 1,000 people per day, the testing capacity for private companies is increasing as well, said Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of Georgia Department of Public Health.

“I too have seen reports that we’re number 45 out of 50 states in terms of our number tested,” she said. “We know we need to ramp that up and ramp up quickly. We’re not the only game in town. Fortunately, many of the hospitals also have ramped up their testing capacity.”

Testing capacity has expanded as CVS Healthcare tests as many as 1,000 pre-screened patients daily at its drive-through site at Georgia Tech. Augusta University Medical Center is offering COVID-19 screening through an online-based application.

Kemp revealed during Monday’s press conference he signed an order to suspend a state anti-mask law intended to prevent hate groups from concealing their identity. He credited Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for his decision to suspend the state’s anti-mask law so people can legally wear the protective masks.

The order comes as concerns grow that African Americans might avoid wearing masks due to fears of racial bias, despite recent recommendations by public health officials that people should cover their nose and mouth when they leave home.

Kemp said the state is trying to contain outbreaks at Georgia’s nursing homes and other aging care facilities where at least 80 facilities have reported positive coronavirus tests.

The Georgia National Guard sanitized 229 senior facilities and is training caregivers to better cope with outbreaks. 

Kemp recently used the emergency powers state lawmakers approved last month to ban visitors and group activities at senior care residences, as well as implement a stricter protocol when a patient is moved from a hospital.

A shortage of protective equipment like masks and gloves continues to pose safety challenges, especially for first responders and health care workers, said Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

“Testing cannot fix this by itself, (person protection equipment) cannot fix it by itself, but it’s a combination of all of these working together to solve this issue and to move us forward,” Bryson said. 

The governor’s shelter-in-place order runs through April 30 and the emergency declaration that gives him extraordinary powers remains in effect until May 13.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.