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Wednesday August 12th, 2020 6:12AM

Albany hospital fills as Georgia infections cross 1,000

By The Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) — The number of confirmed infections from the new coronavirus pushed past 1,000 in Georgia on Tuesday, with deaths rising to 32, as officials in southwest Georgia's largest city warned that they're out of intensive care space.

Georgia's municipalities were urged to impose more restrictions in a bid to blunt the spread of the virus.

The number of positive results surged to 1,026, or 28% over Monday evening's numbers, reaching more than half of Georgia's 159 counties for the first time.

Southwest Georgia's Dougherty County still reports the highest per capita numbers, according to the state Department of Public Health. Infections there rose to 90, a rate 10 times as high as Georgia statewide. In that county, which includes Albany, officials are working to create more intensive care and general beds. Georgia lists 10 of its 32 deaths in the rural and poor southwest part of the state.

Dr. Steven Kitchen, chief medical officer at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, said during a televised briefing Tuesday that the hospital’s three ICUs are filled and the hospital improvised a fourth 10-bed unit for non-COVID-19 patients. He said that unit is full too, and that on Monday, doctors had to discharge ICU patients to make room for five patients with worsening conditions.

“We continue to see an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in our care,” Kitchen said. “We’re quickly approaching the point of maximum capacity. We need a relief valve.”

Officials hope that relief valve will be in a second medical complex the system owns across town. Kitchen said the hospital and state officials are working to create new ICU and general beds there, with the state sending nurses to staff it. Georgia officials have already delivered 20 additional ventilators, Kitchen said. However, Phoebe Putney CEO Scott Steiner said in a statement that his four-hospital system needs more help, and some other hospitals won't even take non-COVID-19 patients from Albany. Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said officials have opened a quarantine facility in a hotel and are sending some patients there. The facility is secured by the Georgia National Guard.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be deadly in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

The state Department of Public Health on Tuesday called for volunteers with and without medical training. Medically-trained volunteers may be used to answer COVID-19 questions by phone or help at testing sites. Nonmedical volunteers may be used for administrative or other help. Gov. Brian Kemp also asked businesses that make or distribute health care supplies such as masks and gowns to send information to state government.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it had moved 14 former passengers of the Grand Princess who have tested positive to a former hotel in Marietta that's now a federal quarantine facility. There are 86 other passengers remaining at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, spokeswoman Cheri Rice said by email, with most expected to go home this week.

The Georgia Municipal Association advised all of the state's 538 cities to order curfews from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and close gyms, movie theaters and other businesses.

The association weighed in as a new order by the Republican Kemp took effect that shuts down bars and nightclubs, prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people and orders people most at risk of illness or previously exposed to shelter at home.

Kemp favors letting local governments decide on stricter limitations. His statewide actions fall short of those in many other states, despite pressure from some lawmakers and health experts for tougher measures.

Some local governments including Atlanta, Albany, and Athens-Clarke County have already adopted restrictions beyond Kemp's orders. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Tuesday imposed stay-at-home restrictions beginning Wednesday.

"I do not feel that it goes far enough in ensuring the health and safety of our citizens,” Johnson said of Kemp's action in a news conference Tuesday.

Democrats in the state House signed a letter Monday to Kemp urging stronger restrictions, and some Republicans feel similarly.

“You hate to contemplate a shutdown because you know it's going to cause economic pain, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge told news outlet Fetch Your News on Monday. “But I would prefer that over hearing of them becoming very ill or dying.”

Some leaders support the go-slow approach in hopes of limiting economic damage, in line with President Donald Trump.

The Georgia Department of Labor has said unemployment filings are much higher than normal, although numbers won't be released until Thursday. But more than a dozen businesses have filed notices with the state in the last week that they're laying off a total of more than 1,200 employees.

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Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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