Part of an expansion at an Atlanta hospital will open nearly four months early in order to provide more intensive care beds during the coronavirus pandemic, as the death toll in Georgia increased to 329.
Piedmont Healthcare announced Tuesday that three floors of the new Marcus Tower at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital will now open on April 13. The tower was originally slated to open Aug. 1.
A statement from Piedmont says the new space will be able to provide 132 additional beds, including 64 ICU beds. "By opening this part of the tower early, we are increasing capacity at a critical time when our community needs it the most," said hospital CEO Dr. Patrick Battey.
News outlets report that state officials are also exploring the possibility of using other locations, including the Georgia World Congress Center — a sprawling convention center in downtown Atlanta — to house patients.
Nearly 1,800 people in the state have been hospitalized and at least 329 have died because of the virus, according to the latest data Tuesday from the Georgia Department of Public Health. The state reported more than 8,800 confirmed cases, though testing has been limited.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The expansion effort comes as local officials continue to grapple with a statewide stay-at-home order that overrode local restrictions.
At least two officials on the Georgia coast say Gov. Brian Kemp has increased the risk of the coronavirus spreading with his latest emergency order rolling back local measures that were stricter than his, such as closing beaches.
Glynn County Commission Chairman Michael Browning, a Republican, sent a letter to Kemp urging the Republican governor to reverse course and allow cities and counties to impose tougher restrictions aimed at containing the virus. Glynn County had closed the beaches at St. Simons Island and Sea Island last month, only to see them reopened when Kemp's order took effect Friday.
"Georgia is about to enter into the critical phase of this pandemic," Browning wrote in his letter Monday, "and this is the time to be tightening restrictions that combat the spread of this disease, not loosening them."
The Glynn County letter came after Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions publicly blasted Kemp in a statement Saturday for what she called a "reckless mandate" to reopen Georgia beaches.
Kemp has dispatched state troopers and Department of Natural Resources officers to enforce social distancing requirements on Georgia beaches, where people are being allowed to exercise but not to gather in groups or bring chairs, umbrellas and other beach gear.
Browning said Kemp's order not only forced Glynn County to reopen beaches, but also nullified a local measure to temporarily halt vacation rentals. He wrote that scrapping those provisions "encourages travel into Glynn County from other areas and increases the likelihood that COVID-19 will spread in our community at a greater rate."