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

ATLANTA – Two of Georgia’s senior congressmen are urging Gov. Brian Kemp to take action in the wake of a surge in COVID hospitalizations.

U.S. Reps. David Scott, D-Atlanta, and Hank Johnson, D-Stone Mountain, urged Kemp Tuesday to order a statewide pause on elective, in-patient surgeries. They also called for Kemp to extend licensing waivers for hospitals and health-care workers who provide critical services beyond the current waivers’ Sept. 19 expiration date.

In a letter to Kemp, Johnson and Scott said the COVID-19’s delta variant has caused “a sharp increase in the number of confirmed cases, particularly among children and the unvaccinated.

“Hospital systems are being forced to make difficult decisions about how to care for patients when there aren’t enough resources to go around,” they said. “Our state is at a critical point in its fight against the pandemic and as elected officials, we must prioritize the health and well-being of our citizens above all other considerations.”

The letter follows numbers posted Sept. 3 by the Georgia Department of Public Health in which the state surpassed 20,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Scott and Johnson also said recent data shows unvaccinated patients have pushed Georgia’s hospitals to their capacity limits, with nearly 92% of emergency room beds in the state currently occupied.

In response, Kemp urged Scott and Johnson to “request the Federal Emergency Management Administration to set a maximum rate for contract healthcare workers” and “demand clear guidance from the CDC and the White House regarding COVID-19 booster shots and their detailed logistical plans to assist states in this enormous undertaking.

“My top priority over the last month has been to ensure hospitals across our state have the necessary resources at their disposal to deliver care to Georgians in need,” Kemp responded. He said he has directed the state Department of Community Health to increase state-supported hospital staffing from 1,500 to 2,800 personnel, and authorized up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to assist hospital systems with non-medical staffing needs.

On Tuesday, a personal finance website, WalletHub, released a survey showing Georgia ranks 47th among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall coronavirus recovery.

“We urge you to take the necessary steps to ensure the availability of adequate hospital capacity to provide the best possible care for COVID-9 patients,” Johnson and Scott wrote. “Placing a temporary pause on elective procedures and extending licensing requirement waivers for hospitals and health-care workers would demonstrate Georgia’s commitment to our health care community and your continued dedication to eradicating the pandemic.”

“While well-intentioned, it is abundantly clear that you have not reached out to my office or spoken with hospital leadership across Georgia,” Kemp replied. “If you had, you would know I have repeatedly utilized executive orders to streamline licensing requirements on healthcare systems since March 2020.”

Scott is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and Johnson is chair of the HouseJudiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

This story available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.