ATLANTA — The Georgia National Guard is back in action. It got its marching orders last year at the onset of the pandemic. The guard later helped operate mass vaccination sites across the state.
Now, the unit has been called in to assist hospitals as they experience a surge in COVID patients. This month, hospital systems have expressed the toll taken on staff in the wake of the delta variant's rapid transmission across Georgia and the nation.
In response, Governor Brian Kemp announced this week that the Georgia National Guard would deploy 105 more personnel to hospitals in need. Kemp also said he would allocate $625 million to pay for more support staff and hospital beds through the end of the year because of the pandemic.
Brigadier General Konata Crumbly said the Georgia National Guard will supply medics, nurses and administrative personnel based on a hospital's needs. Their duties will include entry control, processing and patient care. Crumbly said 180 guardsmen total, both airmen and soldiers, will be deployed to at least 10 hospitals in Georgia. While most of that number are vaccinated, Crumbly said the ones who are not will not be in or near hospitals.
“We want to go to where the suffering is, and right now the suffering is happening in the hospitals," Crumbly said. "We know hospitals are at or near capacity, and that’s where we’re going.”
Crumbly said the guardsmen can rely on previous experience in 2020 as an advantage in this latest mission.
“You kind of go from the fear of the unknown to the fear of the known," Crumbly said. "You get this muscle memory. Now we know what COVID does, how it affects the body. If we can get there early enough, we can sometimes supersede the virus.”
Crumbly broke down the process of how hospitals received assistance from the Georgia National Guard. A county's emergency management director make a request to the Department of Community Health, which then vets and reviews that request. Then, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency reviews the request, and if it passes inspection, the approved request is forwarded to the Georgia National Guard for implementation.
Crumbly said the response from ailing hospitals has been overwhelmingly positive when receiving help from guardsmen. He urged while the mission has no timetable, there are still millions of Georgians who can do their part to ease the pandemic and take stress off of those on the frontlines.
"This pandemic doesn’t care about race, sex, gender, gender identity," Crumbly said. "It doesn’t care about any of that. It will affect you, hurt you, and in some cases, it will kill you. The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others around you, to include your loved ones, is to wear a mask and get a vaccine.”