Kemp sending in Georgia National Guard to fight COVID-19 surge

Coronavirus has sickened hundreds of thousands people and killed thousands more in Georgia. (Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

ATLANTA – With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations still on the rise in Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp deployed the Georgia National Guard Tuesday to hospitals across the state.

Kemp announced that 105 members of the Guard with medical training will head t0 10 hospitals.

“These guardsmen will assist our frontline health-care workers as they provide quality medical care during the current increase in cases and hospitalizations,” the governor said.

“This Georgia National Guard mission is in addition to the 2,800 state-supported staff and 450 new beds brought online I announced last week, at a total state investment of $625 million through December of this year.”

The Guard personnel will be assigned to the following hospitals:

  • Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick
  • Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville
  • Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta
  • Piedmont Henry Hospital in Stockbridge
  • Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany
  • Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah
  • Navicent Health Hospital in Macon
  • Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta
  • Piedmont Fayette Hospital in Fayetteville
  • Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins

The Georgia National Guard is working with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Community Health to carry out the mission.

The number of confirmed cases of the virus in Georgia passed 1 million last week and stood at 1,036,304 as of Monday afternoon, according to the state Department of Public Health. COVID-19 has hospitalized 70,777 Georgians and is responsible for 22,263 confirmed or probable deaths.

State schools chief cites COVID-19 vaccine for saving his life

State School Superintendent Richard Woods (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – State School Superintendent Richard Woods was recently hospitalized with a serious case of COVID-19 despite having been vaccinated, Woods announced Tuesday in a written statement urging Georgians to get the shot.

“Though my symptoms were severe, and I did experience a breakthrough case, my doctors fully believe that the vaccine assisted in mitigating the effects of the virus and kept me alive during the ordeal,” he wrote. ”I encourage all who are eligible to consult with their doctor and prayerfully and thoughtfully consider getting vaccinated.”   

Woods tested positive for COVID-19 several weeks ago before the start of the new school year in Georgia and entered the hospital as classes in some school districts got underway.

The superintendent endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to let individual districts decide whether to require students and teachers to wear masks to discourage the spread of the virus. Local superintendents asked for that flexibility, Woods wrote.

Some school districts across the state have taken advantage of that flexibility by imposing mask requirements as cases of the virus rise inside their schools.

“Though there is a renewed challenge this school year due to the Delta variant, school leaders are in a much stronger position than last year,” Woods wrote.

“Vaccines are widely available; our schools have become more accustomed to, and experienced with, quarantining and mitigation practices; there are additional resources to deploy; we are better prepared and have better infrastructure for remote learning.”

While the issue of mask mandates for classrooms has proven divisive, Woods wrote that all sides of the debate agree it’s time to end online instruction.

“There’s a shared belief that in-person learning is the most effective learning environment for our kids,” he wrote. “However, the safety of all must be our priority.

“As school leaders do everything possible to keep their doors open and in-person learning going, we have a responsibility to do our part, too. This virus cannot be strangled by mandates or planned into non-existence, but we can work together to overcome this common threat.”

Georgia Supreme Court rules against election challenge in probate judge race

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court Tuesday rejected a challenge from an unsuccessful candidate for a probate court judgeship in Long County.

Bobby Harrison Smith lost the election to Teresa Odum in June of last year by just nine votes – 1,372 to 1,363 – according to results certified by the Long County Board of Elections and Registration. A recount turned up a smattering of additional votes but the nine-vote margin remained.

Smith filed a court challenge claiming 30 votes were improperly or irregularly cast. But the trial court judge ruled the evidence was insufficient to cast doubt on the results of the election.

“[T]he trial court noted that, of these technical flaws, only one was brought to the voter’s attention and there was no evidence that the ballots were the result of undue influence or otherwise did not reflect the will of the voters,” Justice Carla Wong McMillian wrote in Tuesday’s Supreme Court opinion.

In the end, Odum – the winner of the election – and the election board conceded that one voter was not a resident of Long County and, thus, should not have voted.

The state Supreme Court went further, concluding that the evidence showed Smith had cast doubt on seven votes. However, that wasn’t enough to overturn Odum’s nine-vote margin of victory.

Georgia nursing homes seeking $347 million in federal COVID-19 relief

ATLANTA – Georgia’s nursing homes are looking for a share of the $4.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds headed to the Peach State.

The Georgia Health Care Association submitted a request Monday for $347 million from the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Congress passed last spring for nursing homes, citing a significant decline in nursing home occupancy during the pandemic.

Statewide, nursing home occupancy fell from 84.5% in December 2019 to 69.6% last February before rebounding slightly to 72.2% last month. However, 27.7% of nursing homes have occupancies at or below 64%.

“These reductions in occupancy have resulted in a devastating loss of revenue,” said Tony Marshall, the association’s president and CEO. “Long-term care providers have a critical need for additional financial resources to continue to remain viable to meet the needs of vulnerable Georgians during this period of recovery.”

Marshall said nursing homes’ bottom lines also are being threatened by rising costs associated with enhanced infection prevention protocols, reporting mandates and retaining an adequate workforce.

“The name of the federal law that provided this funding has ‘rescue’ in its title, and that’s an accurate depiction of what we need,” he said. “This sector is among our hardest hit, and its services help our most vulnerable citizens.”

Gov. Brian Kemp has assembled three committees of Georgia lawmakers, state agency heads and other state officials to sift through applications for the federal relief funding.

Two of the committees are considering infrastructure needs including broadband connectivity improvements and water and sewer projects. The third is focusing on offsetting the pandemic’s economic impacts, an appropriate fit for the nursing homes’ request.

Applications for the federal money will close Aug. 31, and grant winners are due to be announced the week of Oct. 18.

Stone Mountain Park adopts new logo minus Confederate imagery

The new Stone Mountain Memorial Association logo

STONE MOUNTAIN – The Stone Mountain Memorial Association took the next step Monday toward deemphasizing the Confederate symbolism that has made the park in DeKalb County a lightning rod.

The association’s board adopted a new logo that depicts the southern face of the mountain away from the massive carving of three Confederate leaders. It replaces the previous logo dominated by images of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

The Stone Mountain carving was sculpted during the last century over a period of decades, a time that saw the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan at a 1915 gathering atop the mountain and the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court order desegregating public schools.

The project was conceived during the Jim Crow era, when Confederate monuments sprang up across the South glorifying the “Lost Cause” of the Civil War as an honorable struggle for Southern independence rather than a fight to preserve slavery.

That interpretation of the war later fell into disfavor, particularly during the Civil Rights era and – more recently – during nationwide protests against police brutality that spread across the nation last year after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, by a white police officer.

With Confederate statues toppling across the South, critics of the Stone Mountain carving have called for it to be removed.

“The Lost Cause is a lie,” Teresa Hardy, president of NAACP DeKalb County Branch #5192, told board members Monday, “A lie cannot live forever.”

But Wes Freeman, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the board’s effort to essentially ignore the Confederate memorial is destined for futility.

“You can’t change history,” he said. “You cannot judge history by people living today.”

The Stone Mountain board passed four resolutions in May aimed at toning down the Confederate imagery associated with the park while remaining in compliance with a state law that prohibits removing historic monuments from public property.

The new logo, the subject of one of the resolutions, features Stone Mountain Lake in the foreground with the mountain rising behind it. The back side of the park, which is less familiar to many parkgoers, features two golf courses, a campground, granite quarry, grist mill and the Evergreen Conference Center.

“I think it’s a good move,” said the Rev. Abraham Mosley, who took over as the Stone Mountain Memorial Association’s first Black chairman earlier this year. “We wanted to show the mountain and lake. I think it’s a good view of what’s out there.”

The resolutions also call for providing historic context to the carving by adding a museum exhibit at the park’s Memorial Hall, relocating the Confederate flags lining the park’s main walk-up trail to the base of the mountain, and seeking national historic site designation for a covered bridge at the park designed and built by a Black contractor from Athens.