Georgia to use convention center for beds amid virus surge

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference on vaccines for COVID-19 at Emory Health Care Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference on vaccines for COVID-19 at Emory Health Care Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – Georgia will again use a convention center for patient beds amid a surge in coronavirus cases that is straining hospital capacity, the governor said Tuesday.

The Georgia World Congress Center will have 60 beds and should be able to take patients starting next week, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference. He expects the center to serve as an overflow hospital through January.

Kemp said the virus remained a threat despite the rollout of a vaccine, and he encouraged residents to meet virtually over the holidays or gather outdoors with just a few people in the same household.

“As we look to Christmas and the rest of the holiday season, I know that many Georgians are anxious to spend time with their loved ones,” he said. “But we are also pleading with Georgians once again to do the right thing and stay vigilant. Do not let your guard down.”

The state’s coronavirus infection numbers are soaring above their worst peaks of the summer. Health officials reported more than 6,200 new cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of people infected in the state since the start of the pandemic to nearly 519,000. Some people never show symptoms and most recover, but some sicken and die. The virus has claimed more than 9,500 lives in Georgia.

The convention center has served as a hospital before during the pandemic. In April, the state signed a contract to build a 200-bed health care facility at the site.

State officials on Tuesday also announced plans to roll out a second vaccine and expand inoculations. Staff and residents at nursing homes will begin receiving vaccinations on Monday, Kemp said. They are part of a first wave of vaccine recipients that includes health care workers.

The state was also in the process of receiving 174,000 doses of a different vaccine that officials said will be easier to store and deploy, expanding coverage of health care workers in rural parts of Georgia. The goal is to vaccinate all of those workers by the end of January before expanding the effort to other groups.

For the broader rollout, state officials anticipate using primary care physicians, supermarket pharmacies and drive-thru sites, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said.

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