Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is again urging patience among people waiting to be vaccinated against the coronavirus even as he threatens to take vaccines away from large hospital systems that his administration says aren't moving fast enough to administer the shots.
"If this issue continues, the state will take possession of those doses and ensure that vaccinations continue," Kemp told reporters. "And if it takes me firing up my pickup truck and doing it myself, so be it."
The Republican governor made the statements Tuesday as infections and hospitalizations ran at record levels and more school systems pulled back from in-person instruction.
One person in every 154 people was diagnosed with COVID-19 in Georgia in the seven days that ended Monday, behind only Alabama and South Carolina in terms of infection rates, according to figures kept by The Associated Press. Infections appear to be even more widespread, with more than 20% of molecular tests coming back positive.
Georgia is averaging nearly 10,000 newly reported cases a day, having crossed that threshold twice in the past week.
The number of people hospitalized also continues to set records, with nearly 5,700 patients reported Tuesday, nearly a third of all hospital patients statewide. Georgia had the fourth-highest number of people hospitalized per capita Monday behind Arizona, Alabama and Nevada, more than 45% above the national average.
But with Kemp refusing to impose new restrictions on businesses and individuals, his public focus has been on administering vaccines for the past month. After announcing last week that the state would allow anyone over 65 to get a shot, depending on supply, Kemp has faced a wave of public frustration from seniors who can't get a shot, or even get through to get an appointment for a shot. He's also faced the embarrassment of federal figures that show Georgia lagging almost every other state in the share of population it has vaccinated.
The Kemp administration contends those figures are flawed, with some hospitals initially failing to report everyone they are vaccinating, and now says that for unknown technical reasons, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures don't reflect the number of vaccines that Georgia says on its own website that it has administered.
"I know that everyone is probably tired of me saying this, but I will continue to ask people to be patient," Kemp said, noting that demand is far outstripping the state's supply of fewer than 12,000 shots per day.
Many school districts postponed the start of classes until Monday to try to give post-holiday infections time to die down but now are pulling back even further. At least 38 of the state's 182 traditional school districts did not start full-time in-person instruction Monday, according to figures kept by the state Department of Education.
In the 27,000-student Hall County district northeast of Atlanta, officials extended at-home learning through at least next Tuesday and said it would operate on a hybrid schedule for a time when it does return.
The district said last Thursday that 170 employees were in quarantine or isolation because of COVID-19 exposure and said it can't find enough substitutes to cover classes or even drive buses. The district also cited the overflowing hospital in Gainesville, which is housing some COVID-19 patients in a gym, saying "we have an obligation to do our part in protecting the health of the community and in supporting the local health care system."
Many of DeKalb County's 100,000 students had been scheduled to report physically to class next Tuesday for the first time this school year, but officials have pushed the return date back to at least mid-February.