A hospital staff member tests for coronavirus at a drive-up test site at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany. (Photo courtesy of Phoebe Putney)

Dozens of Georgia National Guard members have deployed to help prop up medical staff at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, where an influx of patients infected with coronavirus has filled hospital beds and severely cut into medical supplies.

More than 40 National Guard members including military medics, nurses and a doctor arrived at the hospital Thursday and Friday, according to Gov. Brian Kemp’s office. They brought five ventilators in addition to medical support expertise to help hospital staff focus on the most critical patients.

Another five service members were sent to Albany’s PruittHealth-Palmyra nursing home, where a resident died from the respiratory virus last week.

More than 170 National Guard members have been readied to deploy across the state, the governor’s office said. Kemp authorized 2,000 members total to stand ready for the state’s fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that has caused a global pandemic.

“I am deeply grateful to the men and women of the Georgia National Guard fighting this pandemic,” Kemp said in a statement. “The Georgia National Guard is providing critical support in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate its impact on our state.”

As of noon Friday, 18 people had died from coronavirus at Phoebe Putney’s two hospitals from among 266 who had tested positive, according to a news release from the Albany-based health system. Another 914 patients were awaiting test results to confirm whether they have the virus.

By Wednesday, every intensive-care bed in Phoebe Putney’s hospital was occupied by a critically ill patient with coronavirus, prompting staff to open another critical-care wing and transfer patients to other hospitals.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet reached the peak of this illness in southwest Georgia,” said Scott Steiner, Phoebe Putney’s CEO. “The virus continues to spread in our region and throughout our state. The Albany area was hit hard at the beginning of this crisis, but other areas could soon see what we have been dealing with for two and a half weeks.”

Statewide, the novel coronavirus had infected 2,001 people and killed 64 as of noon Friday. Kemp, other officials and health experts have urged people to keep their distance from each other to help curb the virus’ spread.