CAMDEN COUNTY, Ga. – To help overwhelmed hospitals combating the coronavirus delta variant surge, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is boosting National Guard support.
Kemp has deployed another 75 National Guard soldiers, on top of the 105 previously authorized, for a total of 180. Kemp said during a news conference Monday that he will also allow up to 2,500 additional National Guard members deployed based on need.
“Thank goodness we have the National Guard to help supplement and support our staff. When you reach a capacity that we’re at, staffing is really an issue for us as we see what the future holds for us,” said Michael Scherneck, president and CEO of Southeast Georgia Health System.
With the system overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, the Labor Day weekend is a concern. Twenty-two National Guard soldiers have been deployed to the health system to assist in every way they can.
“It’s a main concern for me living here in Georgia,” said National Guard 2nd Lt. Noah Wilson. “I just want to ensure the safety of all Georgians, and, hopefully, all this will pass by, and whatever we can do to help, that is important to us, and we’ll be here to do that.”
Wilson said 10 soldiers arrived to the health system last week and 12 additional soldiers arrived over the weekend to deal with staffing shortages.
“Right now, we have a team of eight medics on board who are medically trained. Those medics will primarily be used in the CCU, in the ER as patient care technicians. They’ll be assisting the nurses,” Wilson said.
The latest numbers from the health system show 162 people hospitalized with COVID-19. The vaccination rate in Glynn County is about 42%, and it’s 32% in Camden County.
Scherneck said his system is not turning away any patients.
“Some other locations throughout the state of Georgia are diverting patients and they’re sending them to us, and, unfortunately, we’re filled to begin with,” said Scherneck.
The health system has no problem getting oxygen and stocked up, but it is a problem throughout the state. That’s why Kemp renewed a waiver on truck weight limits and how long drivers can be on the road in order to help facilitate the flow of oxygen.
Scherneck said that elective surgeries are paused, and the need for beds has grown, especially among children.
“The overall positivity rate for Glynn County is about 23%, but for people under the age of 18, the positivity rate is around 44%,” said Scherneck.
Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said cases among school-aged children have quadrupled over the past several weeks, with the highest increase for those ages 11 to 17.
Kemp said the best tool to end the pandemic is the COVID-19 vaccine.
“If you have any good ideas on how we can stop the further spread, I’d be open to them,” said Kemp.
Teachers and state employees insured by the state health plan will qualify for a cash incentive to get vaccinated. The Georgia State Health Benefit Plan, which provides health insurance to more than 325,000 teachers and state employees, will offer a $150 cash card or $480 in health care credit to any member who gets vaccinated before Nov. 30, including those who are already vaccinated.
Kemp has already designated Friday as a special state holiday to encourage state employees to receive inoculation. Schools in Camden and Glynn counties will be closed to give state workers an opportunity to get shots.
Ware County students have been out of school because of a surge in COVID-19 cases, and the school system will adopt a hybrid instructional model from Sept. 7 through Oct. 7.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.