ATLANTA (AP) — One of the nation's largest convention centers will reopen next week with “surge beds" to treat COVID-19 patients as critical care units across Georgia remain nearly full, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday.
The Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta will begin receiving patients Monday with 60 beds initially and increase to 120 beds if needed, the Republican governor said.
“These additional hospital beds will provide relief to surrounding healthcare facilities while providing top notch care for patients," Kemp said in a statement.
The news came as critical-care bed availability across Georgia eased slightly, but as the number of new cases, total hospitalizations and deaths remained high. The state on Friday reported that total infections now exceed 186,000, with nearly 3,200 people ill in hospitals and total deaths rising to 3,752. The highest rates of new infection continue to be along the Florida line and in eastern parts of the state from Augusta southward.
Also Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report documenting that of 597 adults and children who attended a Georgia summer camp in June, 260 tested positive for the illness. That was about three-quarters of the 344 people for whom test results were available. The CDC said the outbreak “adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible.”
Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said the Georgia World Congress Center facility would be able to take care of sicker patients than when 200 beds were initially set up in part of the mammoth convention center in April and then later dismantled after caring for only a handful of recovering patients who needed low levels of care. New capabilities will include administering oxygen and medication drips to patients. Hall also said staffing will “reflect the level of need for patients that we are seeing.”
The state's remaining 80-bed temporary facility at Milledgeville will not open for now, Hall said. Georgia has also deployed smaller pods to hospitals in Rome, Gainesville, Macon and Albany.
Reopening the convention center comes as Georgia hospitals have been voicing concerns about bed space with the surge of cases.
The 3,155 people in hospitals Friday fell slightly from Thursday's record of 3,200. Critical care beds were 86% full, with some rural regions that had reported only one bed available gaining back some capacity. Still, five of the state's 14 hospital regions report that more than 90% of critical care beds were full on Friday, including the districts that center around Athens, Macon, Dublin, Valdosta and west suburban Atlanta.
“We thought we were busy back in March and April. We thought that 10 patients was a whole lot of patients that had COVID,” Don Avery, president of Fairview Park Hospital in Dublin, told WABE-FM. “The reality is we would love to be back (there) again, where we had eight or 10 patients.”
The hospital's 16-bed intensive care unit has been full for most of the past 30 days, forcing hospital officials to seek to transfer patients to hospitals that can be hours away.
“We have looked over the past couple of days — what are our options to transfer patients to Macon, to Savannah, even Augusta,” Avery said. “We have had a couple opportunities, but they are very, very limited in terms of bed availability.”
Deaths and new confirmed cases of COVID-19 remain at high levels in Georgia. Georgia’s confirmed death toll rose to 3,671 Thursday, and the 14-day average of deaths rose to a record 41.
Although most people who contract the virus recover, for some it can trigger serious symptoms and be fatal.
Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta will oversee the beds at the Georgia World Congress Center, Kemp said. The safety-net public hospital is also expanding an existing effort to coordinate hospital bed space from metro Atlanta to statewide.
The state is paying Grady $1.2 million to create a round-the-clock website and call center to monitor hospital bed availability and help transfer patients to hospitals that can provide appropriate care. The state Department of Public Health will oversee Grady's work.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.