Channel 2 tours temporary coronavirus hospital at GWCC with Gov. Kemp

ATLANTA — The new temporary hospital going up inside one of the Georgia World Congress Center’s cavernous exhibit halls could begin accepting patients as early as Saturday morning.

The $21.5 million project is slated to house more mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, freeing up valuable hospital space for more serious and critical patients.

Channel 2 political reporter Richard Elliot was with Gov. Brian Kemp as he donned a protective mask and toured the alternate care facility Thursday afternoon. He got a briefing from public and private sector officials on the progress of construction.

Channel 2 Action News had the only television news crew inside the GWCC to see the new facility.

“It’s definitely sobering to have to do something like this in the first place,” Kemp said afterward. “It almost makes me feel good at how quickly something like this came together. I mean, this is unbelievable how fast it happened, how quick it’s already staffed, and we’ll just be ready for patients in a matter of hours, I would imagine.”

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The facility will house 200 COVID-19 patients from all around Georgia. It could expand to house up to 400 patients if needed. These are patients with less severe cases who do not require a ventilator.

In cases where local hospitals across Georgia are nearing capacity, ambulances would transport the patients to Atlanta.

That said, state Adjutant General Tom Carden, would free up critical bed space for more serious cases.

“This facility will serve as a very important relief valve for not only hospitals in metro Atlanta, but for hospitals across the state of Georgia,” Carden said.

Kemp said, so far, the only hospital at or nearing capacity is Phoebe Putney in Albany, site to the state’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak.

He added the state is dropping off mobile hospital units to Albany along with hospitals in Rome, Gainesville and Macon.

“I think what the data is going to show in the next week is going to show us where we are headed,” Kemp said. The projected peak of the patient surge isn’t expected to hit until May 1, though Kemp acknowledged recent models keep pushing that date farther and farther away.

“It’s a little disappointing, but on the other hand, every time the model moves further out, the numbers get better on our bed capacity," Kemp said.

State officials said the $21.5 million cost covers both construction and staffing.