Coronavirus Updates: 200-Bed Surge Hospital Nears Opening At World Congress Center

A massive temporary hospital is shown at the Georgia World Congress Center on Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Atlanta.

Ron Harris / Associated Press, Pool

Updated at 7 p.m. Friday

With Georgia officials still believing the state’s hospitalization peak from COVID-19 is in the future, they’re close to opening a 200-bed facility in a downtown Atlanta convention center.

Crews have built rows of gleaming white cubicles, each 10 feet square, atop a bright white plastic floor in an exhibition hall at the sprawling Georgia World Congress Center. The bare rooms — most only have a hospital bed — are meant to host patients sick with coronavirus but who don’t need intensive care.

The state is spending $21.5 million on the project, including more than $6 million just to build the facility, which could be scaled up to 400 beds. It’s meant to provide a margin of safety for Georgia’s hospitals as a predicted peak in cases and hospitalizations approaches at the start of May amid the global virus outbreak.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Friday that 668 deaths statewide have been linked to the virus. Infections have been confirmed in more than 17,400 people. About 20% of them were hospitalized.

“If you have something that happens when we do get to the peak time, and our hospital bed capacity is nip and tuck, we’ll be glad we had a facility like this,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp told reporters after his tour.

The hospital is supposed to open this weekend after final inspections, with crews having completed construction ahead of schedule.

“Well, it’s definitely sobering to have to do something like this in the first place,” Kemp said. “But it’s also makes me feel good at how quickly something like this came together.” For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including life-threatening pneumonia.

As of Wednesday, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency reported that 2,071 of the state’s 2,950 critical care hospital beds were in use, as well as 8,900 of the state’s 14,400 general hospital beds. Kemp said the Atlanta facility would be for patients from all over Georgia and touted other efforts to increase hospital capacity, including modular pods being deployed in Rome, Albany, Gainesville and Macon.

The surge hospital sits in an exhibit hall of more than 100,000 square feet. It includes portable toilet and shower units on trailers, as well as an area stocked with board games and footballs for patients who want to escape their rooms. On the other side of a wall is an area for medical staff to don protective gear on and take it off, as well as storage, food preparation and administration areas. Patients are supposed to arrive by ambulance to a loading dock, with Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital deciding who goes there. Grady, the safety-net public hospital for metro Atlanta, has fewer beds than usual after a leaking pipe flooded multiple floors months ago.

The facility is being staffed by 211 health care personnel hired on contract. It’s being run by PAE, a government contractor that also built hospitals for Ebola patients in Liberia. Deputy Program Director Nick Visconti said that experience gave PAE a leg up on knowing how to construct Georgia’s hospital.

“As far as the setup, it’s basically all the same,” Visconti said.

 4 Georgia Poultry Workers Dead From Coronavirus

Four employees of a major poultry producer’s operations in rural southwest Georgia have died after becoming infected with the coronavirus, a company spokesman said Friday.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson said three of the employees worked at the company’s chicken processing plant in Camilla, while the fourth person worked in a supporting job outside the plant. He declined to say how many workers there have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus.

American workers who process the nation’s meat have proven especially susceptible to the new virus, as they work shoulder-to-shoulder on production lines. Several U.S. plants have closed because of outbreaks, including a large plant owned by Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that produced roughly 5% of U.S. pork before it was shut down after more than 500 workers became infected.

Mickelson said two other Tyson Foods workers have died from the virus at its plant in Columbus Junction, Iowa.

MARTA To Reduce Bus Service Routes

Starting Monday, MARTA is cutting down bus service to 41 routes, and weekday rail service will operate on a Sunday schedule.

MARTA officials said the changes are because of dramatic ridership and revenue decline during the coronavirus pandemic.

To protect the health of employees, MARTA has already suspended fare collection on buses.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports MARTA’s bus ridership has declined 40 percent in the wake of COVID-19.

Atlanta Goodwills To Halt Donations

People quarantined and spring cleaning their closets during the coronavirus pandemic won’t be able to donate to Atlanta-area Goodwill stores anymore, at least for now.

Goodwill of North Georgia said in a statement that its stores will stop accepting donations after Saturday.

Last month, its 65 stores closed temporarily amid public safety concerns from COVID-19.

Since partially reopening, Goodwill officials say its stores have been overwhelmed with donations.

Warrant: Georgia Man Lied About Virus During Jail Booking

A Georgia man is accused of lying about having the coronavirus while being booked into jail.

Ronald Nathaniel Steward, 29, was charged with making false statements and terroristic threats on April 11 after telling Cobb County sheriff’s deputies that he had been diagnosed with coronavirus, according to a Cobb County arrest warrant.

Steward signed a release authorizing medical treatment and the release of medical information, the warrant said. He said he received treatment at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, but the hospital told a jail nurse that Steward was not tested or treated there, news outlets reported Thursday.

After the call, Cobb County deputies said they still quarantined Steward in a single-person cell and used protective gear around him.

Court records show that Steward was originally charged with obstruction and a misdemeanor battery for hitting a police officer last November, the Marietta Daily Journal reported.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Steward had a lawyer to comment on his behalf.