Governor Kemp gives green light for certain businesses to go back to work and gives a statewide update on the Coronavirus
From Staff Reports
ATLANTA – At his press conference on Monday, April 20, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp gave an update on the spread of the Coronavirus throughout the state of Georgia and laid out his plans for how Georgia will gradually reopen its economy and return to some form of normalcy. The Governor also stated that he would allow certain businesses in Georgia to open back up as early as this Friday, April 24.
The Governor stated that given the favorable data, enhanced testing and approval of healthcare professionals, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, massage therapists and other businesses will be allowed to reopen their doors this coming Friday.
“Unlike other businesses, these entities have been unable to manage inventory, deal with payroll and take care of administrative items while we shelter in place,” said Governor Kemp. “This measure allows them to undertake baseline operations that most other businesses in the state have maintained since I issued the Shelter-in-Place order.” The Governor went on to say that the measure will be applied statewide and that it will be the operational standard in all jurisdictions. That means that local action cannot be taken that is more or less restrictive. Kemp added that over the next few days, he and his administration would continue to monitor existing and potential hot spots throughout the state. “I stay in regular contact with local leaders across Georgia, especially those in Dougherty County and surrounding counties to ensure that we are providing adequate support,” said Kemp. “Right now, in Albany and Dougherty County, we are seeing great improvement.” Kemp went on to say that if any community in Georgia needs the intervention of the state government, the state government would do so with the input of that community, as well as its partnership.
While the entities mentioned above will be allowed to reopen, Governor Kemp made it clear that they will not be doing it in a way that is business as usual. Those businesses will be subjected to specific restrictions, including adherence to the minimum basic operations, social distancing and regular sanitation. “Minimum basic operations includes, but is not limited to screening workers for fever and respiratory illness,” said Kemp. He stated that these businesses will need to make sure that they enhance work place sanitation, that gloves and masks are warn if appropriate, that work spaces are separated by at least six feet and that their employees be allowed to telework where if at all possible. The Governor added that they would also have to implement staggered shifts.
Governor Kemp added that other businesses, such as theatres, private social clubs and restaurant dine-in services will be allowed to open on Monday, April 27, so long as those businesses adhere to the specific social distancing and sanitation mandates. “We will release more information over the next few days,” said Kemp. As far as bars, nightclubs, amusement park rides and live performance venues are concerned, Governor Kemp stated that those businesses would remain closed for now, but that in the days ahead, he and his administration will evaluate the data and confer with public health officials to determine the best course of action for those establishments. “By taking this measured action, we will get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress that we all have made in this battle against COVID-19,” said Kemp. “Today’s announcement is a small step forward and should be treated as such. The Shelter-in-Place order is still active and will expire at 11:59 p.m. on April 30 for most Georgians.”
Governor Kemp also stated that as of noon on Monday, April 20, the confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia was at 18,947 and that a total of 733 Georgians have succumbed to the disease. He went on to say that the state lab has processed 5,362 tests and that commercial vendors have processed 78,966 tests.
“These are families and communities impacted. Our prayers remain with the victims and their loved ones,” said Governor Kemp. “We lift up those who are battling this terrible virus. We remain focused on the safety and well being of every person who calls Georgia home.”
Governor Kemp went on to describe the devastating economic situation in both Georgia and the rest of the nation as a result of COVID-19 and said that Georgia, along with the rest of the country, will have to follow the three-phases outlined by President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force in order to get the people of America back to work.
“To initiate Phase One, a state must meet a series of basic criteria, which can be tailored to reflect specific circumstances for a regional or statewide approach,” said Governor Kemp. “For weeks now, our state has taken targeted action to prevent, detect, and address the spread of coronavirus by leveraging data and advice from health officials in the public and private sectors. Thanks to this methodical approach and the millions of Georgians who have worked diligently to slow the spread of coronavirus, we are on track to meet the gating criteria for Phase One.”
Governor Kemp went on to say that according to the Georgia Department of Public Health, reports of emergency room visits due to flu-like sicknesses are declining and the amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia has flattened and appears to be declining. The Governor also stated that the expansion of hospital bed capacity throughout Georgia, including the use of the Georgia World Congress Center as a temporary facility, has given healthcare workers the ability to treat non-COVID-19 patients in a hospital setting. “Our proactive actions have reduced stress and strain on area hospitals, as well as the communities and families that they serve,” said Kemp.
The Governor went on to say that he has been very frustrated for the past few weeks with the overall status of testing for COVID-19 in Georgia and is committing more resources towards testing. “We partnered with the University System of Georgia, partnered with the private sector to offer drive-thru services and recently empowered public health departments across Georgia to offer testing for all symptomatic individuals,” said Kemp. “Today, we’re taking this effort to the next level by announcing an even broader partnership with the state’s dedicated health sciences university and its health system to double down on our testing capacity and meet the requirements necessary to move forward with the President’s plan.”
Governor Kemp went on to describe an app that can be used to screen, test and treat Georgia patients through an algorithim designed by experts at the Medical College of Georgia. According to Governor Kemp, this telemedicine app, which was launched by Augusta University Health, has enhanced public health while reducing exposure to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers. “We are encouraging symptomatic Georgians to download the app this week and begin the screening process,” said Kemp. “Georgians can access the app by visiting AugustaHealth.org or downloading AU Health ExpressCare on your smartphone. You can also call (706) 721-1852.”
Governor Kemp added that the app is user-friendly and that it will enable users to get in touch with doctors and advanced practice providers from Augusta University Health and the Medical College of Georgia. These doctors and providers will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Governor Kemp said that if anyone comes down with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they can download AU Health’s telemedicine app or call to get screened by a clinician. Those who meet the criteria for testing will be contacted to schedule a test at one of the state’s designated testing sites near the patient’s home. The person’s healthcare information will be securely transmitted to the designated testing site.
“This streamlined process reduces stress on both the patient and testing site workers. Once you arrive for your appointment, you will provide a specimen for testing,” said Kemp. “From there, we will leverage the power of several key academic institutions in the state to process tests.” The Governor went on to say that those institutions are Augusta University, Emory University, Georgia State University and the Georgia Public Health Lab. Those who have been tested for COVID-19 will be able to access their test results in roughly 72 hours via a secure patient portal and they will be contacted directly by a medical provider if the test comes back positive. A clinician will assist that person with a self-reporting app by Google called MTX where, with patient consent, the Department of Public Health can use enhanced contact monitoring and tracing.
“Through this partnership, Augusta University will produce testing swabs in the Dental College of Georgia innovation lab. By using the same 3-D printers that have produced face shields for healthcare workers, the innovation lab will create thousands of swabs per day,” said Kemp. The Governor added that this capability would greatly reduce dependence on vendors and governmental entities so that more COVID-19 testing can be done and Georgians can get back to work. Governor Kemp added that Augusta University plans to roll out this telemedicine app statewide over the course of this week. Governor Kemp continued by saying that the Georgia National Guard will mobilize 10 new strike teams to deploy to hotspots and long-term care facilities to administer 1,500 tests per day.
While the Governor stated that for most Georgians, the Shelter-in-Place order would expire on April 30, he strongly advised that those Georgians who are elderly and medically fragile should continue to shelter in place until Thursday, May 13. That’s the date that Georgia’s Public Health Emergency will expire.
As far as what places of worship can and cannot do, Governor Kemp said that
in-person services will be allowed, but that they must be done in accordance with strict social distancing rules. “I urge faith leaders to continue to help us in this effort and keep their congregations safe by heeding the advice of public health officials,” said Kemp. “Of course, online, call-in, or drive-in services remain good options for religious institutions.”
Governor Kemp stated that while he is encouraged by the positive data and proud of the ground that has been gained in the battle against COVID-19, he reminded Georgians that there is still a long way to go. “We must remain laser-focused on defeating this virus and keeping Georgians safe,” said Kemp. “We must find ways to revitalize communities devastated by COVID-19. We must identify opportunities for economic growth and prosperity.”
Governor Kemp finished his press conference by saying that he is confident that with Georgians working together, the state will emerge victorious from the war with COVID-19 and that by God’s grace, Georgia will be a safer, stronger and more prosperous state for Georgia families and for generations to come.