Georgia hospitalizations keep climbing in COVID-19 wave

Nearly 4,000 people were hospitalized Tuesday with COVID-19 statewide, a number that has more than tripled in the past two weeks.

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Hospitalizations from the latest wave of COVID-19 continue to climb rapidly in Georgia, as hundreds of thousands of students statewide returned to in-person class Tuesday, but others stayed home.

Georgia’s surge continues to be centered around Atlanta, although cases are rippling outward into the rest of the state.

Nearly 4,000 people were hospitalized Tuesday with COVID-19 statewide, a number that has more than tripled in the past two weeks. Hospitalizations in metro Atlanta’s two core hospital districts are now as high or higher than during the delta wave in late summer. Almost 40% of all patients in a hospital district in Atlanta’s northwest suburbs have tested positive for COVID-19.

Although 18 Atlanta-area emergency rooms were turning away ambulances Tuesday afternoon, that number was lower than last week. However, hospitals in Macon and Augusta were showing strain, turning away inbound ambulances and new intensive care patients. About 84% of all intensive care beds were in use statewide Tuesday.

Health officials are also alarmed by the share of tests coming back positive. That level, approaching 40% statewide, suggests undetected infections are extremely widespread.

“We are seeing the explosive growth in COVID infections and hospitalizations that we anticipated in southwest Georgia and throughout the state,” said Scott Steiner, CEO of Albany-based Phoebe Putney Health System. “The current transmission rate is clearly outpacing anything we have been through in previous surges.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health failed to report case and death data Monday, saying its system was overwhelmed by a large amount of data. Numbers reported Tuesday showed the seven-day rolling average of new cases was still climbing but included statistical discrepancies. A department spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to questions about data issues.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday detailed how he was deploying National Guard soldiers to help at COVID-19 testing sites and hospitals. Kemp said he will send 96 soldiers to help with 16 testing sites in seven public health districts and the state Public Health Department warehouse. He said another 102 personnel will be assigned to 11 hospitals in metro Atlanta, Albany, Augusta, Gainesville, Macon, Warner Robins and Thomaston.

Many K-12 students returned to class Wednesday, although school systems in Atlanta, Clayton County, DeKalb County, Forsyth County, Fulton County and Rockdale County will learn virtually this week. Learning at home in those six districts affects more than 350,000 students, or about 20% of Georgia’s 1.74 million students statewide.

A number of other school systems reimposed mask mandates for students and employees.

Other government agencies also were curtailing activity. Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Leonard issued an order Monday cancelling jury summons through Jan. 21, WSB-TV reported.

“I did not make this decision lightly,” Leonard said. “We must keep in mind that jury service compels people of all walks of life, with all health conditions and vaccination status to attend court. Additionally, the likelihood of successfully getting through a lengthy jury trial when our community spread is at this record level is slim.”

Jury trials across Georgia were paused for much of the pandemic. Trials in Cobb County ultimately resumed last April.