Georgia surpasses 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases

Georgia reached a grim milestone in its fight against COVID-19 on Tuesday. The state surpassed its one millionth confirmed case of the virus.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said the two-week average for new cases was just under 4,300 as of Tuesday afternoon.

The GDPH also reported more than 4,600 patients were hospitalized with the virus, something not seen since Jan. 28.

The cause of the spike is the Delta variant, which is driving Georgia caseloads to numbers not reached since the height of the pandemic.

"It's making a bee-line for unvaccinated individuals," Georgia Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

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Medical workers are exhausted, inundated with a seemingly non-stop flow of COVID patients.

Grady Memorial Hospital, the state's largest hospital, is on total diversion, meaning it can't accept a single new patient.

 "Virtually every hospital's most pressing issue is a lack of qualified staff coming through their doors," Gov. Brian Kemp said.

Help is on the way. The state is more than doubling the staff it's sending to help assist hospitals to 2,800 workers. That will open up an additional 450 beds statewide.

With more than 98% of Georgia COVID-19 hospital patients unvaccinated, Kemp is asked people to "learn about the science and make a good decision for yourself."

Kemp also announced he is closing state offices on the Friday before Labor Day to encourage unvaccinated employees to get inoculated against the virus. But he continued his opposition to vaccine or mask mandates, saying he did not think they work and they push people "into a corner."

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"You see where mask mandates are causing fights at sporting events and on airplanes and other things," he said. "People know how to deal with the virus."

Hospitals are dealing with more patients in their 30s, 40s, and 50s than during previous surges — likely a reflection that many older residents have gotten vaccinated, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said Monday. She said the state plans to increase the availability of testing and have testing sites at hospitals to relieve some of the burden on them.

Schools, meanwhile, are struggling to keep classrooms open as exposure to infections forces many students and teachers to quarantine. Ten school districts or charter schools have sent all students home, including Screven County, which announced its decision Monday. Those districts have more than 26,000 students combined, about 1.5% of statewide public school enrollment.

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Child deaths remain very rare nationally, even with the delta variant, but some Georgia students have not been spared. WTOC reported Monday that Brandon Marsh, an 18-year-old senior at Tattnall County High School west of Savannah, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 7. The Tattnall district announced new safety measures in response to a spike in cases, including temperature checks, but is not making masks mandatory.

Kemp, who is up for reelection next year, said schools had to "fight through" similar surges last year, and he had no plans to impose any statewide restrictions.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.