Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that he is extending his earlier “shelter-in-place” order through April 30.
“All of the provisions of the statewide shelter-in-place order will remain in effect,” said Kemp. “I want to thank everyone who followed these directives, and I appreciate your patience.”
The Governor announced new measures to protect patients in long-term care facilities, with the Georgia National Guard joining forces with medical providers to help fight the spread of COVID-19 among some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Kemp said the National Guard now has 36 infection-control teams that have worked at 67 homes in the past six days. He also signed an order to deploy 1,000 more National Guard members to assist in the effort.
“Facilities must adopt infectious disease transfer protocols with nearby hospitals,” said Kemp. “Visitors and non-essential personnel are strictly prohibited except in compassionate care situations. If feasible, these facilities must provide in-room dining services, and all group activities are canceled.”
Kemp said he heard from officials in Georgia counties “who fear that our state will become a vacation destination.”
“I have signed an order to suspend short-term vacation rentals across Georgia,” he said. “To stop the spread of COVID-19, no vacation rental shall occur in Georgia starting at midnight through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, April 30.”
He added that the order “does not include hotels, including extended stay hotels, motels, campgrounds, or purely commercial transactions.” It also doesn’t include any transaction that has been “fully paid and executed or agreed to before 12 a.m. Thursday, April 9.”
Kemp was asked at the close of the press conference about the decision to keep Georgia beaches open.
He said social media posts are showing video of beaches that aren’t current, with crowds from previous occasions. He said the state is monitoring the beaches and that they aren’t crowded.
“People didn’t understand what we meant by keeping state parks open and having our beaches accessible,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re opening the beaches up for spring break parties or the Friday afternoon before July 4 weekend. And I’ve had many conversations. And I’ve talked to people in the coastal areas who are glad we have those outlets for people to get some exercise to get some fresh air and do it in the right way through social distancing. I have made that decision based on my conversations with Dr. Toomey.”
INCREASING MEDICAL CAPACITY
The Governor said the state is working rapidly to increase the state’s hospital bed capacity and to secure all needed medical supplies. He said the state is also increasing its testing capacity. The Governor mentioned a new drive-through testing service at CVS at Georgia Tech, where 1,000 people can be tested daily. He also said the state is now working with Ipsum Diagnostics, which “is able to test 2,000 specimens per day and will be able to expand capacity in the near future.”
“Our Task Force is working around the clock to meet the pressing — and future — needs of those we are honored to serve,” he said. “We remain hunkered down and prepared for any circumstance that comes our way.”
He said the University of Georgia is providing housing for traveling health care workers who have gone to Albany to assist in the outbreak in the south Georgia area.
“While these brave men and women are putting their lives on hold to serve our state, it is the very least we can do to show our gratitude and support,” he said.
GEMA DIRECTOR SPEAKS
Georgia Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson spoke at the press conference. He said the state has received supplies from the federal government, including 300,000 N95 masks, 900,000 surgical masks, over 100,000 face shields, over 900,000 gloves and 100 ventilators.
“So they (the federal government) recognize that they have to be proactive and they’re working aggressively,” said Bryson. “What they’re doing, they’re identifying states that are having the hotspots and the issues. And they’re going to push resources to those states based on that need. So everybody doesn’t get in line and order what they think they need. It’s really going to be priority-based on the facts on the ground. So we think that bodes well for us as a state. They have a model in place on ventilators. If we are within 72 hours of running out, then federal government will make a push to the state to get us ventilators.”
Bryson said the state has spoken with over 500 vendors over the past two weeks trying to line up necessary equipment and supplies.
“And we’ve made significant purchases of PPE (personal protective equipment) to support the medical folks and the first responders in the state, and those orders are coming in now,” said Bryon. “We’ve already shipped over 870,000 N95 masks, 1.2 million surgical masks, 200,000 face shields, over three million pairs of gloves.”
The GEMA director said the state still doesn’t have the quantity it needs.
“But it’s improving daily,” he said.
EDUCATION DURING A CRISIS
Kemp has closed schools for the rest of the 2019-20 year. He said it was a hard decision.
“As a parent of three, please know that this decision wasn’t easy, but it was incredibly important as we work to keep our students, families, and communities safe,” said Kemp.
The Governor said State Superintendent Richard Woods is working with local school districts to help them through the crisis.
"In the coming days, Superintendent Woods will partner with my office and launch working groups to develop guidelines and best practices for our schools involving meals, distance learning, facilities and equipment, mental health, and professional learning. We will do whatever it takes to support our educators, students, and their parents during these challenging times.
DIFFICULT DAYS FOR FARMERS
Kemp addressed the difficulties Georgia farmers are facing now and urged state residents to support agribusiness in the state.
“With schools shuttered and many restaurants scaling back, our farmers are seeing prices plummet and demand diminish,” said Kemp. “Farms that use our country’s seasonal worker programs are seeing good crops this year, but now have limited markets to sell them. However, these same farmers are still on the hook for paying 75 percent of the contract work they signed for before COVID-19 ever hit Georgia. Coming off generational losses from Hurricane Michael, this is another punch in the gut for Georgia farmers. In the coming days, I will make these concerns known to our federal partners and ask them to keep farmers top of mind when crafting a Phase 4 stimulus package.”
CITIZENS FACING UNEMPLOYMENT
Thousands of Georgians are now out of work due to COVID-19.
“We have started to see the effects of that on our state’s safety net, especially when it comes to unemployment benefits,” said Kemp, adding that Labor Commissioner Mark Butler is working “to get out-of-work Georgians the funds that they desperately need.”
Kemp said he reached out to Vice President Mike Pence on the matter.
"Earlier this week, I asked Vice President Pence to check on federal guidance for self-employed workers, gig workers, and 1099 contractors from the U.S Department of Labor so that here in Georgia, Commissioner Butler can be approved to provide those funds. Our Vice President assured me that he would do so, and we look forward to receiving the necessary guidance from Secretary Scalia and the U.S. Department of Labor soon.
REPORT OF ATHENS NURSING HOME DEATHS
Kemp was asked about the report that 10 residents of Athens’ Grandview nursing home died of COVID-19 after testing positive for coronavirus.
The Governor and Dr. Toomey did not specifically address the deaths of the nursing home residents in Athens. But Toomey said the Wednesday order that addresses sanitizing and health protocols at care facilities is a needed action.
“One of the reasons why we felt the order is so important, we were recognizing cases with these facilities with the highest-risk individuals,” she said.
After the report of 10 nursing home deaths in Athens, the official Department of Public Health death count for Athens remained at nine Wednesday.
Kemp was asked about the recent announcement by U.S. Rep Doug Collins that he secured 200,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine from Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. He was asked by a reporter if that will also be available from those who regularly take the drug for autoimmune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Many who regularly take that drug now say they can’t get it. The effectiveness of the drug has not been scientifically validated for treating COVID-19, though it is being prescribed in some cases.
Toomey responded that the drug donation is only for hospital use for COVID-19. She said she is concerned about the lack of availability of hydroxychloroquine for patients who regularly take it for autoimmune disorders.
‘NO PLAYBOOK’ FOR A PANDEMIC
Kemp said there’s no official game plan for dealing with a pandemic.
"Sadly, there’s no playbook for this, but we continue to use data, science, and the advice of our healthcare officials to guide our steps toward a safer, healthier, and more prosperous future for all Georgians,” he said.
Kemp’s executive orders can be found at https://gov.georgia.gov/executive-action/executive-orders/2020-executive-orders
WHAT THE SHELTER-IN-PLACE ORDER SAYS
Here’s what Kemp’s shelter-in-place order stipulates:
•People must remain home unless they are traveling to obtain food, groceries or medicine, or engaging in similar activity for the well-being of others such as family members and pets. They can also travel to work or medical appointments, assist with "critical infrastructure" or perform outdoor exercise activities as long as "social distancing" requirements — at least six feet of space between every person — are adhered to. People may golf or go to state parks, but must comply with the social distancing requirements.
•Businesses that are considered "critical infrastructure" are required to take several steps to remain open — including, among several others, screening employees for symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath and staggering shifts and having employees telework when possible.
•All other businesses that aren't considered critical infrastructure are allowed to only perform minimum basic operations and follow additional protocols while being closed to the public.
•Restaurants are allowed to provide drive-thru and curbside pick-up, but no dine-in service.
•Bars, night clubs, gyms, fitness centers, entertainment facilities and all grooming establishments (hair and beauty salons, nail salons, massage parlors, etc.) are ordered to close.
•Churches are allowed to have services and funerals can be held, but only if the same social distancing requirements are followed. State officials have identified church services and funerals as sources of huge community outbreaks.