Georgia Governor to Lay Out New COVID Plans as Cases Surge

August 16, 2021

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ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp will lay out additional steps to help Georgia hospitals and encourage — but not require — state employees to get vaccinated amid an alarming surge in coronavirus cases.

Kemp has scheduled a news conference Monday with Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey to discuss these steps and answer questions, the governor's office said.

It comes as Georgia's case count soars, fueled by the much more contagious delta variant among people who haven't been vaccinated. Federal officials shut down the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta on Monday, a little more than a month after it reopened, saying the surrounding county far exceeds the definition of a high transmission area.

Many of the hospitals now inundated with coronavirus patients have warned they don't have enough beds and staff to take any more.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Georgia's hospitals has climbed to nearly 4,300, with more than 88% of the state's ICU beds in use. The vast majority of these patients didn't get their shots. Only 41% of Georgia's population is fully vaccinated, well below the national average.

The state's seven-day rolling average of new cases climbed above 6,000 on Friday, the worst since Feb. 1.

Schools, meanwhile, are struggling to keep classrooms open as exposure to infections forces many students and teachers to quarantine. Nine school districts have sent their students home, including Burke, Crisp, Long and Ware counties, which announced their decisions on Friday.

Child deaths remain very rare nationally, even with the delta variant, but some Georgia students haven't been spared. WTOC reported Monday that Brandon Marsh, an 18-year-old senior at Tattnall County High School west of Savannah, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 7. The Tattnall district announced new safety measures in response to a spike in cases, including temperature checks, but isn't making masks mandatory.

Kemp, a Republican up for reelection next year, has rejected a statewide mask mandate and said the state will not restrict businesses or public activities again. He has encouraged people to get vaccinated, but has opposed mandates, saying that some people may never be willing to take the shots.

That's a sharp break with states led by Democrats. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced earlier this month that most of Virginia's state workers will have to be vaccinated or agree to regular COVID-19 testing. North Carolina, New York and California have issued similar requirements, and the Biden administration has ordered strict vaccine rules for federal workers.