Georgia to spend $100M to supplement hospital staff, call up guard in response to pandemic

In addition to disinfecting long-term care home, Georgia National Guardsmen have tested patients for COVID-19, aided busy hospitals, and assisted food banks. Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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In addition to disinfecting long-term care home, Georgia National Guardsmen have tested patients for COVID-19, aided busy hospitals, and assisted food banks. Curtis Compton/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Adjutant general: ‘We have plenty of bandwidth’

UPDATE: This story is updated with comments from Gov. Brian Kemp’s COVID-19 media briefing.

The Georgia National Guard is poised to deploy to busy hospitals and COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites across the state in response to the surge in omicron variant infections, Georgia Adjutant General Thomas Carden Jr. said Wednesday.

At a press conference, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state would deploy about 200 guard members beginning next week, with about half going to testing sites and the other half to assist hospitals.

In August, Kemp authorized the use of up to 2,500 guardsmen to help free up doctors and nurses so they can care for patients, administer vaccinations and test people for the disease.

“We are in the process of preparing soldiers and airmen to respond to the needs of our medical professionals and public health professionals and likely some of our hospitals,” Carden said in an interview.

“We have plenty of bandwidth to be able to do whatever we need to do,” he added. “What we are doing right now is identifying personnel for the mission.”

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

At his press conference, Kemp urged Georgians suffering from mild symptoms not to seek testing at emergency rooms to help preserve hospital resources.

He also announced plans to spend $100 million over the next 13 weeks to boost staffing at hospitals across the state. The funding should be sufficient to hire about 1,000 contract medical personnel, he said.

The state Department of Public Health, meanwhile, is again looking to open a mass testing center near Atlanta’s airport.

Georgia set a new single-day record Tuesday for confirmed and probable coronavirus infections as omicron rips through the state. The state Department of Public Health reported 13,670 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, shattering a previous record set in January. Public health experts say infections will continue to build in the wake of holiday gatherings.

Vehicles idled for blocks - miles, in some cases - outside of several COVID-19 testing centers in the Atlanta area Tuesday. Rapid tests were difficult to find in local stores or even online.

The Guard has been deeply involved in the state’s response to the pandemic since early last year. In addition to disinfecting long-term care homes, guardsmen have tested patients for the disease, aided busy hospitals and assisted food banks.

Asked about the possibility of fatigue in his ranks, Carden underscored the seriousness of the crisis.

“Everybody knows this is serious. They are taking this seriously,” he said. “Our people have been extremely professional and flexible. And their employers and their families have been extremely patient and supportive.”