Governor, health officials urge hesitant Georgians to get vaccinated as cases surge

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp calls the COVID-19 vaccine a medical miracle and is urging hesitant Georgians to consider the vaccine or masking up and keep your distance.

“I am over this, ready to move on. But the fact is, we have to hunker down and fight through this over the next two, three weeks and I just really want to urge people to consider getting vaccinated,” Kemp said.

Kemp told Channel 2′s Justin Farmer that Georgians hesitant to get the COVID vaccine must listen to doctors, not politicians.

“I feel really strongly that a mandate will only divide people,” Kemp said. “My thinking is, look, talk to your medical professional. Talk to your doctor, talk to your local pharmacist and just make a good decision to protect you and your family and, hopefully, that would be to get vaccinated.”

The governor told Farmer that he talks with hospital CEOs frequently about the virus’ impact. He said staffing healthcare workers in hospitals is a big problem statewide.

“I think we’ve spent almost half a billion dollars of augmenting staffing for our hospitals and medical facilities around the state. And we’re continuing to do that because we know that they need the help,” Kemp said.

“Have you looked at opening the World Congress Center again or something similar for more beds?” Farmer asked Kemp.

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“We have everything on the table. The problem with opening any temporary facility, you’ve got to have people to staff it,” Kemp said.

Georgia health officials predict we could see the peak of this latest surge in early September, around Labor Day weekend.

Grady Memorial Hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Jansen said they’re handling the load as best they can while facing the same staffing shortages other hospitals across the southeast are facing.

He’s warning this could get worse.

“It is fatiguing, and it is frustrating,” Jansen said. “Now we’re in the middle of a surge that, if we’re not lucky, could exceed what we saw back in January.

Grady Memorial is busy caring for nearly 100 COVID-19 patients, up significantly from the 41 just last week. Healthcare officials predict this latest surge could peak around the beginning of September, but that could lead right into the Labor Day weekend.

If history has shown anything during this pandemic, it’s that we always see a surge after a holiday.

“To know that we have people of all ages dying or being severely ill from what is a vaccine-preventable disease is heartbreaking to me,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.

There are breakthrough cases among the vaccinated, but the majority of those people do not get seriously ill.

Toomey told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot that she is once again encouraging all Georgians to get the vaccine and to get tested again, but to avoid doing that at their local hospital emergency rooms.

Those hospitals are already stressed by staffing shortages and the latest COVID-19 surge.

“We will be able to fight this variant. We will be able to get through this, particularly if we can encourage more vaccinations throughout the state,” Toomey said.

Toomey says currently one out of every four patients in Georgia hospitals is there because of COVID-19.

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