A day after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced a new low for current hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients, a new report says Georgia may not have enough hospital beds to treat a second wave of critically ill coronavirus patients.
On Monday, Kemp tweeted that 1,134 COVID-19 patients were currently hospitalized, a new low since the state started tracking that number on April 8.
But on Tuesday, the Center for Public Integrity released a report that included internal federal government documents of a slideshow prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The briefing given last week said Georgia's intensive care unit beds were 79% full on May 6, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Data suggest that Georgia may have limited healthcare capacity margin to respond to a future surge in critically ill patients," reads the slide, which was marked "NOT FOR DISTRIBUTION."
A daily report from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency said 68% of critical care beds, or 2,013, were in use Tuesday afternoon. Nearly the same percentage, 66%, of general inpatient beds were in use.
In Northwest Georgia, 27 of a total of 47 critical care beds are currently in use. The state does not specify whether beds are being used by COVID-19 patients.
On April 24, Kemp allowed certain businesses to reopen. A few days after bowling alleys, movie theaters and hair salons opened in Georgia, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee started to reopen similar businesses on a limited scale.
A second wave of coronavirus cases is likely, according to a model from Georgia Tech. The recent reopening of Georgia's economy could lead to anywhere between 6,100 and 17,900 deaths by mid-August, depending on how the public responds to social distancing orders.
The widely-cited model from the University of Washington projects deaths will be at 3,596 by Aug. 4 in Georgia.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee said the state is making preparations such as preparing a 400-bed overflow hospital in Memphis and is monitoring data.
"You know, you might have an increase in cases in one county. It might come across a multitude of counties," Lee said in response to Times Free Press questions. "And the decisions you make as a result of that information would be vastly different. So we'll just follow the information and make the decisions accordingly."
Kerry Hayes, chief of staff to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, said during a teleconference recapping the local COVID-19 Task Force's weekly meeting Tuesday that there is still concern that some parts of the country may be reopening too quickly and without a sufficient plan.
"We are certainly hopeful that that is not the case in Tennessee and that a large number of preventable illnesses and deaths do not occur," Hayes said. "We're still very much in the midst of a pandemic. That is, new cases here and across the state increase every day."
As of Tuesday, the highest number of coronavirus patients hospitalized at the same time in Hamilton County was 14 on April 25 and May 1, according to data from the Hamilton County Health Department.
Although the county's COVID-19 cases spiked last week, the burden on local hospitals has remained small and manageable.
In Northwest Georgia, new cases and more deaths continue to slowly rise while the daily average of cases has leveled off. Most of the state's deaths are hitting nursing homes and other long-term facilities particularly hard.
Ten residents have died at the Calhoun Health Care Center nursing home in Gordon County due to the coronavirus.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reports 52 people have tested positive at the nursing home that has a total of 67 residents as of 2 p.m. on Monday. Of the 52 positive cases, 15 are employees.
Elsewhere in Northwest Georgia, Regency Park Health and Rehabilitation in Dalton is the only other long-term care facility to have a positive case of the coronavirus. One resident and one employee have tested positive there.
The 10 deaths at the Calhoun nursing home brings the total of COVID-19-related deaths in Northwest Georgia to 26.
Sixteen people have died in Gordon County, six in Whitfield County, two in Chattooga County, one in Dade and Murray counties and none in Walker or Catoosa counties.
In nearby Athens, Tennessee, nine people have died at the Life Care Center. The latest figures from the Cleveland, Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America location in Athens show that 71 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. The facility reported that 27 residents have tested negative for the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, 48 workers have tested positive for COVID-19, the center said. It reported that 16 associates have recovered and met Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for returning to work. The center said 80 employees have tested negative for COVID-19 and three tests are pending.
In Georgia, 1,461 people have died from the coronavirus and 711 died in nursing homes, or nearly half, in 354 facilities.
Of the 34,635 positive cases in the state, 4,376 are residents and employees in nursing homes.
The New York Times reported that at least 28,100 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States. The virus so far has infected more than 153,000 at some 7,700 facilities.
While just 11% of the country's cases have occurred in long-term care facilities, deaths related to COVID-19 in these facilities account for more than a third of the country's pandemic fatalities, the newspaper reports.
On Tuesday, Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle announced it would suspend in-person church services because of COVID-19 concerns just 16 days after church members were allowed to return to the sanctuary for service.
"Our hearts are heavy as some of our families are dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 virus, and we ask for your prayers for each of them as they follow the prescribed protocol and recuperate at home," the church said in its announcement.
Pastor Justin Gazaway welcomed members back to the church on April 26 for services, though members could still livestream the services. Gazaway did not respond to request for comment by phone or email Tuesday.
Logan Boss, spokesperson for the Northwest Georgia Public Health District, said the department was only aware of one confirmed case linked to the church, and health workers are currently investigating.
The state reported 53 confirmed cases in Catoosa County on Monday afternoon and 58 on Tuesday afternoon.
The church's decision to re-suspend in-person services comes as houses of worship throughout the region weigh whether to reopen. Health experts have warned returning to large gatherings too soon could spike the number of coronavirus cases. In some rural communities, churches are the closest and most frequent gathering, raising the risk of outbreaks in less urban environments.
Times Free Press reporters Andy Sher, Elizabeth Fite and Wyatt Massey contributed to this story.
Contact Patrick Filbin at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.