State to reopen coronavirus field hospital in Atlanta as hospitals see record surge

Georgia leaps from 26th to 11th in the nation in new cases, latest White House report says.

Georgia again climbed the national rankings in new coronavirus cases, and state officials are racing to reopen a field hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center Thursday as medical centers statewide see record numbers of COVID-19 patients.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force said Georgia ranked 11th in the nation in the week that ended Friday for new cases, up from 26th a week earlier. Georgia’s worsening ranking reflects a widespread epidemic in the Peach State, some improvements in Midwestern and Mountain West states and uneven reporting by other states leading up to Christmas.

Reporting of new cases is expected to remain bumpy as operations at test sites and labs will be limited during the upcoming holiday weekend. Still, the picture in Georgia remains troubling as Georgia ranked seventh in hospital admissions nationally last week, up from 12th a week earlier.

The task force said nearly all of Georgia’s 159 counties report moderate to high levels of community transmission, with 141 counties and every major metro area in the “red zone.”

“No unmasked public gatherings are safe and no indoor private gatherings are safe without all members fully masked, unless all members are actively taking the same precautions and regularly test negative,” said the latest task force report, dated Sunday.

Georgia is experiencing its third wave of the coronavirus, and this surge has surpassed the two previous ones in both confirmed infections and hospitalizations.

“Georgia has seen an unstable plateau in new cases but an increase in test positivity and significantly increasing new hospital admissions,” the report said. “Mitigation must significantly increase to contain this surge.”

Gov. Brian Kemp reiterated Tuesday he plans no new limits on businesses and gatherings, or mandating mask-wearing, preaching personal responsibility to help control the virus.

The alternative hospital bed capacity facility the state of Georgia is re-activating at the Georgia World Congress Center is seen during a tour on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Hospitalizations climb

State data show 4,437 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Georgia as of about 7 p.m. Tuesday. That’s more than three times the number of patients hospitalized in mid-October and about 39% more than the summer peak.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) reported 9,450 net new combined confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the second highest combined daily tally to date. Of those, 5,853 net new cases were determined by molecular PCR test and 3,597 net new cases were indicated by rapid antigen tests.

Tuesday’s high case figure is at least in part a result of backlogs from the holiday weekend. The state also reported 40 net new confirmed COVID-19 deaths and another 43 deemed “probable” coronavirus deaths.

Georgia started a slow-burn increase in cases in October, which spiked following Thanksgiving and hit a new high on Christmas Eve with more than 10,000 combined confirmed and probable cases.

Georgia reported a spike in testing before the holiday as people defied public health guidance and held family gatherings. But despite the spike, the seven-day rolling average for test positivity hit its highest point of this current surge at 15%.

All but one of Georgia’s 14 hospital districts report COVID-19 patients making up more than 20% of total patients, with Region B in far northeast Georgia and Region M in southeast Georgia reporting the highest percentages at nearly 40%.

Statewide, nearly nine out of 10 intensive care beds were occupied as of Tuesday afternoon, state data show. As of 2:30 p.m., state data showed 10 of Georgia’s 14 hospital districts reported 10 or fewer ICU beds available, and Region A in northwest Georgia and Region H in central Georgia reported no available ICU beds.

Security guards watch over 4000 pallets of protective equipment at the alternative hospital bed capacity facility the state of Georgia is re-activating at the Georgia World Congress Center that also houses the recent PPE shipments for the state on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Staffing a critical issue

On Tuesday afternoon, Kemp and Chris Stallings, the director of the state’s emergency management agency, provided a tour to the media of the Congress Center field hospital. The convention center facility is set to reopen Thursday for the third time as a relief valve to the state’s hospitals.

Kemp said the facility will ultimately ramp up to 60 additional staffed beds exclusively for COVID-19 patients. The Congress Center facility will be for patients who require a hospital bed but not intensive care, officials said.

Kemp said the field hospital will be opened through the end of January at a cost of about $16 million to $18 million, with contract staff who will be managed by Grady Health System. Currently, 112 beds with equipment are available at the site.

Kemp urged Georgians, particularly people aged 18 to 29, who lead the state in new infections, to heed public health guidelines. He has said people should opt for virtual New Year’s Eve gatherings to help prevent a January surge.

Kemp said he closely watches case numbers and hospitalizations, and people know what to do to curb the spread.

“You’re looking at other states that have had lockdowns like California, they have a much worse hospitalization situation than we do,” Kemp said.

But Georgia ranked just two spots better than California in COVID-19 admissions per 100 hospital beds in the task force rankings.

Kemp said the state is looking at other avenues to expand hospital bed capacity if needed, but he stressed that people should continue to seek care for other ailments and not delay treatment.

“The staffing issue has been the hardest part for any governor, any hospital CEO and it doesn’t matter what state you’re in,” Kemp said.