Georgia gov sues to end cities' defiance on mask rules

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at the Georgia Cancer Center in Augusta, Ga., Thursday, July 2, 2020, as part of his "Wear a Mask" Fly-Around Tour to promote the wearing of masks as COVID numbers rise in Georgia.

ATLANTA — With 82% of Georgia’s critical care beds now in use, health systems across the state say they’re quickly nearing capacity as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

In the Albany area, one of the state’s hardest-hit regions early on in the virus’s spread, hospitalizations are climbing dramatically once again, Phoebe Putney Health System CEO Scott Steiner said Thursday.

In all of June, 47 COVID-19 patients were admitted to the hospital in Albany in southwest Georgia, Steiner said. In just the first eight days of July, 37 have already been admitted.

“Our daily average is up almost threefold so far this month,” Steiner said in an update Thursday.

“It is clear transmission of the virus is picking up throughout Georgia and much of the country,” he added.

In Middle Georgia, Navicent Health has seen a dramatic rise this week in COVID-19 patients who needed to be hospitalized, particularly at The Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon.

In metro Atlanta, Emory Healthcare said hospitalizations of its confirmed COVID-19 patients have more than tripled in the past 14 days.

Atlanta’s mayor on Wednesday signed an executive order mandating masks, defying Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision not to require face coverings.

Statewide, health officials released data Wednesday showing that 82% of Georgia’s critical care beds are in use, matching the largest share filled with patients since officials began releasing statistics in mid-April. However, not every patient in a critical care bed has COVID-19.

One of Kemp’s prime goals has been to avoid overloading hospitals, which could lead to much worse outcomes.

Some parts of the state have far fewer critical care beds available. In three of the state’s 14 hospital regions, fewer than 6% of critical care beds were available, including Athens, Valdosta and Atlanta’s northwest suburbs.

Along the Georgia coast, officials blamed the coronavirus for delaying efforts to cut apart and remove a huge cargo ship beached on its side off St. Simons Island since September. That work has been temporarily halted after nine workers among the 260-person salvage crew tested positive for the virus, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John Miller said Thursday.

According to state health officials, more than 106,700 people in Georgia have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 2,930 people in the state have died after contracting the virus.

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Associated Press Writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed.

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