ATLANTA (AP) — Large numbers of infections keep getting confirmed every day, more people keep being hospitalized, and deaths are climbing as the coronavirus continues its march through Georgia.
Wednesday's numbers showed nearly 2,800 people hospitalized statewide with the COVID-19 respiratory illness, the highest on record and a number that's nearly doubled since the beginning of the month. The state reports 84% of hospitals' available critical beds are in use, although some hospitals say they have opened up more space and have more room.
Georgia overall had nearly 128,000 confirmed infections and nearly 3,100 deaths overall as of Wednesday, although experts say many more people get the illness but are never tested. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. Most recover, but some can become severely ill or die.
The state has been seeking new hospital beds to handle the record-setting number of people admitted with the virus. Gov. Brian Kemp's administration on Tuesday signed a deal with Piedmont Healthcare, one of four large hospital systems in the Atlanta area, to open 62 beds in a new tower at the system's main Atlanta hospital. The state is providing nurses to staff the beds off a contract with a private staffing company. A Kemp spokesperson on Wednesday could not immediately say how much the state was paying Piedmont or how long the deal would last.
The Republican governor previously announced plans to reopen an overflow hospital at the mammoth Georgia World Congress Center in downtown Atlanta.
The trend of deaths had hit a low in Georgia on July 9, when the state averaged only 12 newly reported deaths a day over the previous week. Newly reported deaths sometimes happen weeks earlier. But the trend of deaths has since been rising, following upward trends in cases and hospitalizations that began in early June. Georgia is now averaging 24 deaths over the past week, the highest level in nearly four weeks.
Kemp also faces a Wednesday deadline to extend some parts of his executive orders governing the state's response to the pandemic. The overall state of emergency will run through at least Aug. 11.
The governor has told cities and counties they can't impose any additional restrictions on the general public beyond Kemp's orders, but a number of jurisdictions have now ordered people to wear masks in public, with some proponents arguing that Kemp's existing orders don't actually preclude that step.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told local reporters he's threatening businesses with fines or even being shut down if they don't enforce the city's order for everyone to wear masks in public places.
Other governments are taking steps on their own property. Macon-Bibb County on Tuesday closed park pavilions, sports fields, basketball courts, and playgrounds to reduce virus transmission.