Governor Brian Kemp gave the following address to Georgians on Thursday, March 19, 2020:
“This afternoon, I am saddened to announce that we have lost ten Georgians to COVID-19. Our hearts are broken for their families and friends, and our prayers go out to everyone affected. In the weeks ahead, I would ask all Georgians to keep these families and communities in your thoughts and prayers as they grapple with this loss.
“Life as we know it has changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Across Georgia, children are home from school, and many Georgians are working remotely. Public gatherings are few and far between – for good reason – while some healthcare facilities, including Georgia hospitals, are ramping up capacity, seeing more and more patients, and providing critical treatment for those in need. Leaders at the federal, state, and local level are working hard to make the right calls and keep people safe. There are no easy answers, and the guidance continues to change as we fight to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“Moving forward, we must remain dynamic and responsive. To weather the storm, we have to stay united in this fight. Georgians deserve to have the facts so they can make the right decisions for their families. They need as much information as possible to keep their loved ones safe.
“Yesterday, there were 197 cases of COVID-19 in Georgia spanning twenty-nine counties with three confirmed deaths. Today, there are 287 cases of COVID-19 spanning thirty-six counties, including Bibb, Early, Glynn, Laurens, Muscogee, and Peach where we previously had none. And we are actively investigating confirmed cases in certain long-term care facilities, which present a unique and time-sensitive challenge. So far, the Department of Public Health’s state lab has conducted 508 tests for COVID-19 with 113 positives.
“State officials have deployed mobile testing sites in certain regions of Georgia with more on the way. Commercial labs have conducted 1,323 tests for COVID-19 with 174 positives. Due to volume, some commercial tests are taking longer than the standard forty-eight hours to get results back. We are urging these labs to process tests in a timely fashion.
“This morning, I was encouraged by news from the White House that vaccine development and anti-viral therapies are moving along quicker than originally expected. I applaud the Trump administration’s leadership in removing unnecessary red tape and outdated rules to deliver real solutions for American families in this crisis.
“Even with these developments, we must start prioritizing COVID-19 tests for our most vulnerable populations as well as the people responsible for their care and safety. This action will conserve precious medical supplies – like masks, shoe covers, and gowns – which are becoming increasingly difficult to find due to overuse, export bans, and hoarding. Health officials on the state and national level urge the public’s immediate cooperation.
“Georgia’s elderly; those with chronic, underlying health conditions; those who live in a long-term care facility like an assisted living facility or nursing home; and those serving on the front lines as a healthcare worker, first responder, long-term care facility staffer, or law enforcement need these tests. The best way to serve the public is to protect the people who are protecting us.
“As many of you know, I recently declared a public health state of emergency and authorized GEMA to work with the Georgia National Guard to activate up to 2,000 troops to assist in emergency preparedness and response efforts. On Monday, the Georgia General Assembly convened for a special session to ratify the public health state of emergency. I am deeply grateful to the House and Senate for taking swift action so we can deploy all necessary resources to help Georgians in this time of need. We also continue to update the appropriations chairmen on how we plan to use emergency spending in the amended budget. Unlike other states of emergency, this declaration allows the Department of Public Health to direct specific healthcare action in extraordinary circumstances. We are moving forward using the advice of health officials and emergency management officials at all levels of government.
“Already, we have learned of looming supply shortages at specific hospitals in Georgia. We have taken immediate action, working with federal officials to secure more tests as well as critically needed materials from the national stockpile. We are coordinating supply delivery to healthcare facilities in need. We are grateful to those who have offered up their inventory to help others. Your sacrifice is literally saving lives.
“Earlier today, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new guidance to the American healthcare workforce asking for a delay in elective procedures to conserve medical supplies and free up medical staff. DPH, GEMA, and I urge health facilities to follow this guidance, too. Without question, we are going to need these resources in the weeks ahead. As the number of cases continues to rise in communities across Georgia, hospital bed space remains a serious concern. State agencies are working in tandem to determine existing capacity and run the numbers on potential needs. This work is ongoing, and we will continue to provide updates as the situation changes.
“Fortunately, we continue to receive offers from the private sector – including Walmart, Atlanta Motor Speedway, and UPS to name a few – to utilize private real estate and other resources should the need arise. At the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia, GEMA has almost completed installation of a new patient isolation zone ready for emergency housing units. Hard Labor Creek State Park is still an asset at our disposal with seven trailers on site if patients with COVID-19 have no alternative housing during recovery.
“In accordance with the public health state of emergency, all elementary, secondary, and post-secondary public schools closed yesterday, March 18, through March 31. In many circumstances, online learning will continue, and both the University System of Georgia and the Technical College System of Georgia have moved to online learning for students through the end of this semester. On a case by case basis, school officials are working to accommodate students who require in-person clinical experience to complete their coursework.
“Sadly, misinformation is rampant in times of crisis. I want to thank all of the Georgians who have alerted my office to potential scams. We are working hard to keep people apprised of what we discover, and I encourage people to continue to rely on official sources for information. If you see something suspicious, let us know. Part of our response includes a new COVID-19 hotline for constituents. On average, our team receives around 700 to 800 calls each day to share public health information and connect people with resources for assistance. The number is 1-844-442-2681. Again, that’s 1-844-442-2681.
“Right now, there are 209 passengers from the Grand Princess Cruise Ship remaining at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Officials are making plans to get people to their home states when they can safely return.
“As a husband and father of three girls, I understand the concerns and fears felt by people across our great state. Despite all of the unknowns, know that we are working to prepare for – and respond to – any scenario. Our top priority is the safety of our citizens in every part of Georgia. As we work to flatten the curve and keep communities safe, we are mindful of our small businesses affected by this crisis.
“They are the lifeblood of local communities and employ millions of hardworking Georgians. As a small businessperson for over three decades, I understand the stress and strain this pandemic has on Georgia entrepreneurs and job creators. Yesterday, the U.S. Small Business Administration processed Georgia’s paperwork to allow small business owners to apply directly for economic injury loans. The application is now available online directly through SBA.
“To stop the spread of coronavirus, we must follow the guidance from federal and state health organizations and leaders: regularly wash your hands, practice social distancing, protect the elderly and chronically ill, and stay home, especially if you are sick. If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, call your doctor or an urgent care clinic. Do not show up at the emergency room or your doctor’s office unannounced.
“Remain calm, act responsibly, and help us urge your fellow Georgians to follow medical recommendations. Right now, I am not mandating business closures, shutting down public events, or forcing people to go into quarantine. I am, however, leaning on the advice of medical professionals and scientists and urging local officials to do what’s in the best interests of their communities to keep people safe and stop the spread of coronavirus. We are in this fight together, and we will emerge stronger than ever.
“Please continue to pray for the law enforcement community, our first responders, and the healthcare providers across our state who are doing everything in their power to get us out of harm’s way and save lives. To all of the business owners who stepped up to offer assistance, who had to make tough decisions for the greater good, the future may seem uncertain, but we stand with you.”