(TNS) ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday deployed Georgia National Guard medical staffers to nearly two dozen hospitals in the latest sign of the state’s worsening struggle to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The governor’s order sends 105 medical personnel to assist staff at 20 hospitals, including Grady Memorial in Atlanta and Phoebe Putney in Albany, facing severe strain from the vicious fourth wave of the disease.
Kemp said the National Guard troops will “assist our frontline healthcare workers as they provide quality medical care” amid a new spike in cases and hospitalizations fueled by the highly infectious delta variant, which is taking the worst toll on those who refuse vaccinations.
The governor is facing increasing calls to take more aggressive action to stem the spread of the disease. He’s opposed vaccine requirements and mask mandates, though this month announced new funding to expand hospital capacity and hire 1,500 additional state-supported staffers.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s nursing shortage is at crisis levels and healthcare leaders are pleading with residents to get vaccinated and take other precautions to slow the spread of the disease as emergency rooms and intensive care units fill up.
As of Tuesday, confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients made up 34% of all hospitalized patients in Georgia. Intensive care units and emergency rooms across the state have been flooded for days, forcing hospitals to divert some ambulance traffic and leaving patients waiting longer than normal for care.
The number of hospitalized COVD-19 patients — 5,349 statewide — is growing quickly and approaching the pandemic record set in January. Some hospitals in south Georgia are carrying COVID-19 patient loads that have already surpassed their previous peaks.
It won’t be the first time Kemp has called in help from the National Guard to fight the disease. The governor last year dispatched hundreds Guard “strike teams” to long-term care facilities, nursing homes and other areas of the state struggling with the pandemic.