Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that he will issue a statewide shelter in place order that will go into effect Friday, and he is issuing an order today for schools to close for the remainder of the school year.
The shelter in place order will be signed by Kemp on Thursday, and will remain in effect until April 13. The order to close schools for the remainder of the school year was expected to be signed late Wednesday afternoon.
"New models show Georgia will need more time to prepare for hospital surge capacity, and while we are making excellent progress with our team, we have got to be more aggressive," Kemp said.
As of noon Wednesday, Georgia has seen a total of 4,638 cases of COVID-19 and 139 deaths from the disease.
During a late afternoon press conference Wednesday, the governor cited a projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which expects Georgia will reach its peak hospital capacity on April 23 because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
"This model assumes that Georgians continue to abide by the state's orders and use social distancing methods through the end of May," Kemp said. "These numbers, as you know, are updated on a daily basis and we are continuing to monitor capacity."
The order to close schools will not impact online learning efforts being undertaken by districts, such as Gwinnett County Public Schools.
The governor said information from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people can spread the virus before showing any symptoms marked “a game changer.” It was at that point he decided to issue a shelter-in-place order.
The order will also likely exempt some industry sectors like grocery stores, pharmacies and medical supply providers.
“We’re going to have a lot of information in this order,” Kemp said.
As of Wednesday morning, Kemp said the state’s hospitals had a total inventory of 3,520 medical surgical beds and 1,600 ventilators. Several hospitals, particularly in hard-hit areas in the northwest and southern parts of the state, have already been taxed with an influx of patients in recent weeks as the virus took root in Georgia.
On top of hospitals filling up, state health officials are aware of 47 elderly care facilities that have experienced outbreaks of coronavirus, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner. Seniors and chronically ill persons are most at risk from deadly health effects from the virus.
Earlier this week, the governor authorized around 100 Georgia National Guard members to prop up operations at long-term senior care facilities where cases of coronavirus have been confirmed.
Also, health officials have identified at least five outbreaks stemming from church gatherings plus more outbreaks connected to funerals, Toomey said. She cautioned that any situation in which people congregate now “can be a potential site for transmission.”
Toomey echoed Kemp’s point that a statewide shelter-in-place order now will help hospitals endure a surge of patients expected as this month progresses.
“Now is the time to stop that transmission before the hospitals get overrun,” Toomey said.
“This is absolutely not just like the flu,” she added. “It’s many times more transmissible, and it’s much more deadly.”
Kemp cautioned that with schools closed and people staying home instead of working, state officials and local hospitals are seeing an increase in cases of domestic violence.
And hundreds of thousands of people, suddenly out of jobs or with their work hours severely cut, are “facing financial ruin because of this virus,” Kemp said.
“We will continue to do whatever it takes to help keep our families safe and ensure a strong and prosperous future,” Kemp said.
The governor’s shelter-in-place order follows mounting pressure from health experts and politicians from both parties who have called for a statewide approach. Up to this point, Kemp has largely deferred to city and county authorities to decide whether to issue stay-at-home orders for their areas.
Speaking Wednesday, Kemp acknowledged that many people in Georgia have been voluntarily isolating themselves from social gatherings but that formal rules “vary by city and county.” He said those who defy orders to stay at home and avoid crowds present a danger to the public.
“The reality is that if you do not comply, you are violating the law and you will be facing stiff penalties,” Kemp said. “Even worse, you are literally endangering the lives of those around you, your loved ones and fellow Georgians.”
Facing unprecedented times, the governor urged people in Georgia not to panic and make a run on groceries. He stressed that supply chains for food and other necessities should remain unbroken.
“I want to encourage my fellow Georgians to hang in there,” Kemp said. “We must first overcome the obstacles we have in our path. By doing this, we will get through this together.”
The governor said the shelter in place order will be enforced by state law enforcement and "other people that I have authority to deputize."
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