Georgia’s health agency will more than double the number of temporary hospital staff to help cope with the current surge in COVID-19 patients, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday.
The Department of Community Health (DCH) will commit $125 million in addition to $500 million the state already is spending to increase state-supported hospital staff at 68 hospitals across Georgia from 1,300 to 2,800, Kemp said.
Specifically, 170 of the new staff will go to rural hospitals, the governor told reporters during a news conference at the state Capitol.
Commissioner of Community Health Caylee Noggle and her team have also identified 450 beds in nine regional coordinating hospitals that will be soon be available for the new staff being deployed to treat patients.
Kemp said his decision to increase hospital staff was based on input during the last week from hospital CEOs.
“Virtually every hospital’s most pressing issue was a lack of qualified staff to treat the patients coming thru their doors, nurses, respiratory therapists, ICU personnel, just to name a few,” he said.
The additional hospital staff will be provided through a continuation of the state’s no-bid contract with a private Alpharetta-based staffing firm, Jackson Healthcare, and a subsidiary. Georgia Health News reported recently that the contract, which began with the first wave of COVID-19 in Georgia last year, had brought Jackson $434 million as of July 23.
Kemp’s announcement Monday came as Georgia continued to lag the nation in COVID-19 vaccinations. As of Monday, 48% of Georgians had received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to the national average of 59.7%.
About 41% of Georgians had been fully vaccinated, compared to 50.7% of all Americans.
The governor also announced Monday that state offices will be closed on Friday, Sept. 3, in advance of Labor Day to encourage state employees who have not been vaccinated to schedule a shot on or before that day.
Kemp also doubled down on his previous declaration that the state will remain open for business despite a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
“We will not shut businesses down,” he said. “We will not prevent families from earning a paycheck.”
The governor also defended his decision not to impose a mask mandate on teachers and students in Georgia schools. However, he said he would support any choice individual schools or school districts might make to switch to online classes for a short period of time due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“Let the schools deal with the individual situations they have,” Kemp said. “That’s better than one size fits all.”
Overall, 982,589 Georgians have contracted COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the state Department of Public Health (DPH) reported Monday. About 90% of the current cases involve the delta variant, DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said Monday.
The virus has hospitalized 68,852 Georgians and resulted in 21,978 confirmed or probable deaths.
On Monday alone, the DPH reported 5,165 confirmed cases, 212 hospitalizations and 45 deaths.