By Dave Williams
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp committed up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops Monday to fighting the surge of COVID-19 cases across the state.
While the 105 Guard members Kemp deployed to 10 hard-hit hospitals last week were medically trained, the newly assigned troops will be given non-medical assignments, the governor said. He said hospital executives have told him they need help with such tasks as directing traffic, staffing cafeterias and cleaning rooms.
“It’s a real morale booster to let the people working in the hospitals know we’re listening to them,” Kemp said.
The additional commitment came as COVID-19 cases continued to explode in Georgia. The 12,223 new cases reported on Saturday was among the highest since the coronavirus pandemic first hit Georgia in March of last year, state Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Kathleen Toomey said.
Toomey said many of the newer cases involve school-age children, particularly those ages 11 to 17.
“Children are getting infected and transmitting to other family members,” she said.
Toomey said the three vaccines that have proven effective against COVID-19 continue to work well against the virus, including the highly contagious delta variant.
While 168 vaccinated Georgians have died from the disease, that represents a tiny percentage of the total deaths from COVID-19, she said.
“We have the capacity to vaccinate more and more people,” she said. “We’re just not getting people coming to be vaccinated.”
Mass vaccination sites have worked well to increase the number of vaccinated Georgians.
But Toomey said some health-care workers giving shots have been harassed by people opposed to vaccinations. One site even had to close due to threats, she said.
“This is wrong. These people are giving their lives to help others,” she said. “We should be thanking these individuals.”
Kemp said vaccination incentives have paid off. He cited DeKalb County, where 2,500 people were vaccinated during a single event.
The governor also announced on Monday that the Georgia Department of Community Health will offer $150 Visa gift cards or $480 in credit for health-care expenses to State Health Benefit Plan members as a vaccination incentive.
He reminded state employees state agency offices will be closed this Friday to give them a chance to get a vaccination.
Meanwhile, Kemp continued to emphasize vaccines as a better weapon for fighting COVID-19 than government-imposed mask mandates.
“Mandates are only going to cause division,” he said. “We shouldn’t be fighting about these issues.”
Besides the additional National Guard commitment, an executive order Kemp signed Monday also lifted the usual limits on weight, height, length and operating hour of commercial trucks to speed medical supplies to Georgia hospitals. He said hospitals are reporting oxygen in short supply.