ATLANTA - New cases of COVID-19 as well as the current hospitalizations from the virus continue to climb in Georgia, according to state health officials, and some medical centers have started turning people away for lack of space.
It is a similar story across the Southeast. In Florida, the state is slammed with COVID-19 patients are suspending elective surgeries and putting beds in conference rooms, an auditorium, and a cafeteria. And a Louisiana hospital had to postpone an organ transplant.
"We are seeing a surge like we’ve not seen before in terms of the patients coming," Dr. Marc Napp, chief medical officer for Memorial Healthcare System in Hollywood, Florida, said Wednesday. "It’s the sheer number coming in at the same time. There are only so many beds, so many doctors, only so many nurses."
Coronavirus hospitalizations are surging again as the more contagious delta variant rages across the country, forcing medical centers to return to a crisis footing just weeks after many closed their COVID-19 wards and field hospitals and dropped other emergency measures.
The number of people now in the hospital in the U.S. with the virus has more than tripled over the past month, from an average of roughly 12,000 to almost 43,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That is still nowhere close to the nearly 124,000 patients in hospitals at the very peak of the winter surge in January. But health experts say this wave is perhaps more worrying because it has risen more swiftly than prior ones. Also, a disturbingly large share of patients this time are young adults.
In Georgia, new cases continue to spike with the two-week average now at 2,382, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The GDPH also said current hospitalizations as of Thursday afternoon were 2,926, a level not seen since Valentine's Day, two months after the state received its first COVID-19 vaccines.
And to the frustration of public health experts and front-line medical workers, the vast majority of those now hospitalized are unvaccinated.
Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana alone account for nearly 40% of all hospitalizations in the country, according to the CDC. Louisiana and Georgia have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with around 38% of their populations fully inoculated. Florida is closer to the national rate, at 49%. By way of comparison, most New England states are well over 60%.
The variant has sent new U.S. cases surging to 94,000 a day on average, a level not seen since mid-February. Deaths per day have soared 75% in the past two weeks, climbing from an average of 244 to 426. The overall U.S. death toll stands at more than 614,000.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp has publicly criticized both mask mandates and vaccine incentives, arguing they do not work. He doubled down on those words Wednesday night.
"People don’t trust the government anymore when it comes to COVID guidance and mandates don’t work," Kemp said.
Across Florida, more than 12,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday, and nearly 2,500 of them were in intensive care unit beds. The state is averaging nearly 18,000 new cases a day, up from fewer than 2,000 during the first week of July. In all, Florida has seen more than 39,100 coronavirus deaths.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken a hard line against mask rules and other compulsory measures, saying it is important to keep Florida’s economy moving.
"Florida is a free state, and we will empower our people. We will not allow Joe Biden and his bureaucratic flunkies to come in and commandeer the rights and freedoms of Floridians," DeSantis, who has been exploring a possible bid for president in 2024, said in a fundraising email Wednesday.
The reversal in fortune at some hospitals has been stark.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report