Governor Brian Kemp Declares Public Health Emergency, Issues Statement

Update: Since Governor Brian Kemp issued his statement, additional confirmed cases of coronavirus have been identified in Fulton County. A daily status report is available through the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Today, in an unprecedented move, Governor Brian Kemp signed a public health state of emergency to address novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Georgia.

The declaration will facilitate the deployment of all available resources for the mitigation and treatment of COVID-19. If necessary, unlike other states of emergency, this declaration will allow the Department of Public Health to direct specific healthcare action in extraordinary circumstances.

The declaration also suspends restrictions on hours of commercial vehicle operation and vehicle height, weight, and length thresholds to assist in preparation and response efforts. And it authorizes the Georgia Composite Medical Board and Georgia Board of Nursing to grant temporary licenses to applicants who are in good standing in other states to assist in addressing healthcare needs.

Governor Kemp issued a full statement earlier today. The key takeaways from his message to the public were:

There are now 64 cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, which is the largest increase in the state over a twenty-four period to date. Fulton County accounts for 11 cases.

For most Georgians, the symptoms of COVID-19 are mild to moderate with no need for hospitalization, but for elderly citizens and those with chronic, underlying health conditions, the consequences can be severe.

Capacity has been increased at the state lab to allow for coronavirus testing of specimens. Currently 100 specimens are being processed per day. By the end of next week, it will double with the addition of new equipment and staff.

Officials are working on establishing independent testing sites throughout the state in every major region. Those locations are expected to be announced next week.

State agencies are being asked to implement teleworking policies; visitation at state health facilities and correctional facilities is being limited; daycares and schools are being called upon to take steps to keep students, teachers and administrators safe.

Social distancing measures to flatten the epidemiology curve for exposure and mitigate patient surge at health facilities are advised. Postponing group congregations and large gatherings like sporting
events and social functions is urged.

Read the full statement below:

“My fellow Georgians: Over the past few weeks, our state has been
facing an unprecedented public health threat with the spread of novel
coronavirus. In only a matter of days, communities within the
metro-Atlanta area and North Georgia have seen several cases,
including hospitalizations, where the source of infection is unknown.
Many of these cases have no connection to travel, and the capacity of
our healthcare system remains at the forefront of my mind as we
prepare for more local transmission. As of this morning, there are now
sixty-four cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, which is our largest increase
over a twenty-four period to date. This information will reflect on
the Department of Public Health’s new website shortly.

There are now fifteen cases in Cobb, eleven cases in Fulton, eight
cases in DeKalb, seven cases in Bartow, five cases in Cherokee, four
cases in Fayette, three cases in Floyd, two cases in Coweta, two cases
in Gordon, two cases in Gwinnett, and one case each for Lee, Henry,
Lowndes, Polk, and Charlton counties. In Bartow, Cobb, and DeKalb
counties, the number of cases doubled overnight. We have to remain
vigilant, especially for our most vulnerable populations. For weeks
now, my team has been working around the clock to make sure that we
are ready for any scenario. We have increased capacity at our state
lab to allow for coronavirus testing of specimens. Right now, we are
processing 100 specimens per day, and by the end of next week, we will
double it to 200 per day with the addition of new equipment and staff.

We continue to work closely with local healthcare providers, local
government officials, private labs, emergency responders, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, and our federal counterparts.
Together, we are gathering pertinent information to share it with the
public in a timely manner and utilize the resources at hand to respond
to this unprecedented health emergency. We have called on daycares and
schools to take necessary measures to keep students, teachers, and
administrators safe. We have restricted visitation at specific state
health facilities as well as correctional and juvenile justice
facilities. We have called on faith-based organizations to consider
cancellation of services to mitigate the risk of transmission. I have
also asked state agencies to immediately implement telework policies
for employees who are able to work remotely without causing a
disruption in service to Georgians. We have fully activated the
Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency’s State
Operations Center.

Yesterday, President Trump highlighted efforts to partner with the
private sector and ramp up coronavirus testing. We are working on
establishing independent test sites in every major region of Georgia,
and we expect to announce those locations early next week. And out of
an abundance of caution, I have worked with the General Assembly to
appropriate 100 million dollars in emergency funding to address the
spread of coronavirus in Georgia. As many of you know, yesterday
afternoon, President Trump signed a national emergency declaration for
our country. I deeply appreciate his administration’s leadership in
this fight. Throughout this process, Vice President Mike Pence has
also been an invaluable asset to state and local leaders – always
ready to lend assistance, provide guidance, and connect us with the
right federal partners to keep moving forward.

Based on President Trump’s emergency declaration, today I will declare
a public health emergency for the State of Georgia. This declaration
will greatly assist health and emergency management officials across
Georgia by deploying all available resources for the mitigation and
treatment of COVID-19. If necessary, unlike other states of emergency,
this declaration will allow the Department of Public Health to direct
specific healthcare action in extraordinary circumstances. It suspends
restrictions on hours of commercial vehicle operation and vehicle
height, weight, and length thresholds to assist in preparation and
response efforts. It authorizes the Georgia Composite Medical Board
and Georgia Board of Nursing to grant temporary licenses to applicants
who are in good standing in other states to assist in addressing
healthcare needs.

In accordance with state law, I will call for a special session of the
General Assembly to convene at the State Capitol at 8 AM on Monday,
March 16, 2020 to ratify this action through a joint resolution.
Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan and Speaker David Ralston have
expressed their full support, and I look forward to continuing to work
with them on this important effort in the weeks ahead. I have also
spoken to leaders of both parties in the General Assembly to explain
the situation that we are facing and ask for their support.

This public health emergency is unprecedented for the State of
Georgia, and I do not take this action lightly. It is a more
specialized form of a state of emergency and allows for a more robust
response to crisis specifically in the healthcare sector. As part of
our planning efforts, we know that for most Georgians, the symptoms of
COVID-19 are mild to moderate with no need for hospitalization, but
for elderly citizens and those with chronic, underlying health
conditions, the consequences can be severe. Yesterday afternoon, I met
with epidemiologists from Emory University, the University of Georgia,
Grady Health System, and Augusta University along with Dr. Kathleen
Toomey, the state’s chief health officer and Commissioner of the
Department of Public Health. I asked for their medical advice in
addressing public health needs and utilizing mitigation tools in the
days ahead. They all recommended immediate implementation of social
distancing measures to flatten the epidemiology curve for exposure and
mitigate patient surge at health facilities. Otherwise, we risk a run
on critical resources for the sickest patients in our state. Now is
the time to act.

According to the CDC, social distancing means postponing group
congregations and large gatherings like sporting events and social
functions. In his address yesterday, the President specifically
mentioned staggering recess and lunch for schools which are not
closed, limiting in-person meetings, increasing scheduled cleanings,
and canceling work-sponsored travel. If they have not done so already,
Georgians need to incorporate social distancing into their everyday
lives. If you need more specific guidance, we are here to serve you.
Contact your local public health office or consult official sources,
such as the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health, for
helpful guidance on decision-making. Remember: Elderly citizens and
those with chronic, underlying health conditions face a serious threat
to their health, and we must do everything in our power to reduce risk
associated with this virus.

We will continue to provide updates to the public as we weather this
crisis. I know how important transparency is in a time like this, and
I will continue to operate with transparency. In the days and weeks
ahead, we must remain supportive of one another, be mindful of
potential exposure, use best practices to prevent infection, and pray
for our fellow Americans. As I stand here today, I can see a painting
of our state flag along the walls of this office where many governors
have stood before me. Underneath the coat of arms, it says, “In God We
Trust,” and I keep thinking about that as we take action to keep
families safe. As this situation evolves, we will take appropriate
action at the right time with the right resources. I am asking for
God’s wisdom every hour.

Please pray for the patients, their loved ones, medical providers, and
all of the people working to address this health emergency. We are in
this fight together, and because of that, we will be stronger than
ever before. Thank you, and may God continue to bless the State of
Georgia.”

Photo: Governor Brian Kemp

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