ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp once again urged all Georgians to talk to the doctors, pharmacists, health care providers, and even their pastors to make the decision to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as new cases and hospitalizations continue to spike.
The governor on Monday afternoon spoke about the state’s latest efforts to help battle the virus offering new funding for qualified employees while vowing no new mandates and that the state will remain open for business.
"This safe, effective vaccine reduces the likelihood you could get infected with COVID-19, but more importantly, it will drastically reduce the chances of you ending up in a hospital bed or losing your life," the governor said.
Kemp said hospital officials are now seeing that more than 90% of all those in the hospital from COVID-19 are not vaccinated with about the same percentage of those patients having contracted the more virulent delta variant of the virus.
"This variant is much more transmissible, it goes very quickly from person to person, it causes you to become infected much more quickly, in a matter of days, instead of a week or longer," said Kathleen Toomey, head of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Dr. Toomey said the state is seeing the virus target younger, unvaccinated individuals.
"And so the highest rates yet we’ve ever among individuals 30, 40 years old, higher rates in 50-year-olds. And these were young people who weren’t hospitalized before," Toomey said.
Toomey pointed to the state’s early efforts to get shots in the arms of Georgia’s older population. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 72.7% of those 65 and old in the state have been fully vaccinated. As of Monday, the CDC 46.6% of Georgians 12 years and older have been fully vaccinated.
Kemp and Toomey also outlined a plan to help get more Georgians vaccinated. The governor said he has authorized a day off for all state employees on the first Friday of September to promote the vaccine.
"I’m asking all state employees who have not yet gotten their shot to consider scheduling it on or before Friday, Sept. 3," the governor said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Toomey said community-led vaccination efforts are working. She pointed to a handful of events over the weekend.
"In DeKalb County, there were some incentive vaccinations there along with sports stars," Toomey said adding that the drive gave more than 1,100 shots.
She also said the state has partnered with the Home Deport for the "Say Yes to the Vaccine" campaign which was in Savannah over the weekend and will soon visit Athens and the Georgia Aquarium.
"As you know, our three daughters have been vaccinated and Marty and I as well," Kemp said adding their parents were also vaccinated.
Toomey said the state is also ramping back up its efforts to test more people to keep people out of the health care system.
"We want to do everything we can to keep people away from emergency rooms that are overwhelmed right now if they don’t need to be there," she said.
It isn’t just the ERs that are overwhelmed. Kemp said during a call last week, the CEOs of metro Atlanta’s hospitals told him Georgia’s health care systems are once again being taxed by the ongoing pandemic.
"Virtually every hospital’s most pressing issue is the lack of qualified staff to treat the patients coming through their doors," Kemp said.
The governor said the state had committed $500 million through October to provide 1,300 staff to the 68 hospitals across the state. He said after talking with Georgia Department of Community Health Commissioner Caylee Noggle, an additional $125 million will go toward assistance through December.
"To expand those efforts, I am announcing today that Commission Noggle and her team will increase the total number of state-supported hospital staff from 1,300 to 2,800. More than doubling out staffing assistance to date," Kemp said.
About 170 of those new employees will go directly to rural hospitals. He said health officials have identified about 450 more beds in nine regional coordinating hospitals once those new health care providers are hired, but admitted it would take some time.
Meanwhile, the governor also said the state will not issue any new mask mandates.
"I have taken the take that instead of mandating, I think that just pushes people into the corner, you see where mask mandates are causing fights at sporting events and on airplanes, and other things," Kemp said.
The governor also no additional guidance would be needed for schools from the state adding he supports local educators.
"Every school’s going to have to deal with that differently, I’m trusting them to do that, but I don’t think any more guidance or restrictions, I actually think that would be counterproductive," Kemp said.
The governor reiterated that Georgians know the risks of COVID-19 and they also know how to best be part of the solution.
"I want to reiterate that Georgia will remain open for business," Kemp said. "We will not shut down, we will not prevent families from earning a paycheck."
Kemp said he sent a second letter to the FDA to push for full approval of the vaccines to help fight the hesitancy in the South.
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