Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced a shelter-in-place order April 1 that will take effect statewide Friday and last through April 13 as the country tries to limit the spread of COVID-19. He also declared that schools will not return to class for the 2019-2020 year.
“We are taking action to protect our hospitals and medical providers and prepare for the patient surge we know is coming,” he said.
Kemp’s announcement followed a bleak coronavirus spread model released by the White House Tuesday that projected 100,000-to-240,000 deaths nationally with mitigation efforts — and many more without social distancing.
The Governor said that he and state Department of Public Health (DPH) director Dr. Kathleen Toomey will release detailed guidance Thursday on what the shelter-in-place order means.
“Now is a time to stop that transmission before hospitals are overrun,” said Toomey. “I think the important thing is the action is being taken and we need the public’s cooperation.”
Kemp reported that the virus is projected to peak in Georgia on April 23. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 1, there have been 4,748 cases, 154 deaths and 1,013 hospitalized in Georgia.
There are 3,520 medical beds in Georgia and 1,006 ventilators. Kemp said more is needed on both fronts and added that the state has purchased four steel shipping containers which were converted to 20-to-24-bed emergency units that can be deployed to the hardest-hit areas of the state, such as Dougherty County, which Toomey referred to as one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in the world with 490 cases and 29 deaths.
“We’re trying to keep other places from becoming like Albany, which has one of highest rates now in the country and the world,” she said.
The Governor said hospitals are working to increase capacity. He has relaxed state regulations to help boost beds, equipment and medical personnel numbers as fast as possible.
Kemp said people who don’t comply with the shelter-in-place guidelines need to be reported.
“If you do not comply, you are violating the law and you will be facing stiff penalties,” he said. “Even worse, you are literally endangering the lives of those around you, your loved ones and all fellow Georgians.”
Kemp acknowledged that certain people must leave home, such as health care workers, public safety personnel and grocery store workers. He said Thursday’s order will provide details on who is exempt, and he referred to those on the front line battling the virus and helping keep the nation safe and fed as American heroes.
“There are Georgian American heroes out there,” he said.
Kemp said the bare necessities are a must, such as continuing to purchase food at grocery stores and getting medications.
“People have to eat,” he said. “We have to continue to process our food supply. We have to have pharmacies open. We have to have Georgia-based companies that are making personal protective equipment (PPE) medical supplies.”
A reporter asked how families should act. For instance, can parents take their kids to go see their grandparents? Kemp urged families to avoid that for now if possible, using video chats or other means of communication.
Kemp said COVID-19 testing will soon be boosted to a capacity of 3,000 tests per day with the help of state colleges and labs.
“I assure Georgians that improving test remains a top priority for me,” he said. “The status quo is unacceptable.”
The Governor was asked why he didn’t issue the order sooner. Kemp said the order he issued March 23, which included limiting gatherings to 10 people or less and urging the medically fragile to shelter in place, was as tough as any other measure in the country.
“If you compare that to other states with exceptions, we had as strong an order as anyone in the country,” he said.
Kemp’s earlier order gave local governments authority over what they deemed necessary in their communities. The Governor added that he has been following the advice of medical professionals, including Dr. Toomey.
But he said the revelation in the past 24 hours that up to 25 percent of COVID-19 carriers may be asymptomatic was a “game-changer” and that new fact required further action. One reporter said that this knowledge was known before. Kemp then referred to Toomey for further clarification. She said all decisions were previously based on those presenting symptoms of COVID-19.
“You could tell from the pattern of spread, and we knew from the cruise ships that there’s likely asymptomatic transmissions,” she said. “CDC (Center for Disease Control) guidance and our own testing patterns were to test those with symptoms. All of our epidemiologic models were based on people with symptoms.”
Kemp has deployed the National Guard to assist in the coronavirus fight. The National Guard will assist nursing home and long-term care facilities. Outbreaks have been reported in 47 such facilities, Kemp said.
Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden reported that the National Guard will deploy 13 medical support teams for hospitals, homes and care facilities to help with infection control and offer other support as requested. The Guard will man seven food banks, support Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) isolation facilities and serve as logistical support for the Georgia Department of Health.
“This is when we live our values,” said Gen. Carden.
The Governor said the economic cost is severe but that stopping the spread of the virus is crucial. He likened the spread of the virus to a bull’s eye.
“We’re trying to make sure of the people who get it, it’s a very small bull’s eye that have to enter the hospital setting,” he said. “If we can flatten the curve now, we make that bull’s eye smaller.”
The Governor referred to the Bible verse Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Kemp asked those on the front lines of the fight to continue to be strong and courageous and asked all others to do the same.
“We are in this together,” he said “We are going to win this together.”