Gov. Kemp, DPH, DCH, GEMA, Dept. of Insurance and Georgia Guard Give Update on COVID-19
Wednesday, May 13th, 2020
Governor Brian P. Kemp delivered the following update on COVID-19 in Georgia. Governor Kemp was joined by Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson, and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden.
"Good afternoon, everyone. I’m joined by Dr. Kathleen Toomey, General Tom Carden, GEMA Director Homer Bryson, General John King, and DCH Commissioner Frank Berry. Before we begin our weekly briefing, I want to provide an update on the Ahmaud Arbery case. Over the past few days, there have been several important developments. As many of you know, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation became officially involved in the case the evening of Tuesday, May 5. Less than two days later, on Thursday, May 7, Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested for Felony Murder and Aggravated Assault of Ahmaud Arbery. Both men are currently jailed in Glynn County.
"Friday, May 8 would have been Ahmaud’s twenty-sixth birthday, and Georgians all across our state ran 2.23 miles to celebrate his life and draw attention to the case. It has been an emotional time, and our prayers remain with his family, loved ones, and the community as a whole. There are many questions that have yet to be answered. And frankly, Georgians deserve the truth.
"Attorney General Chris Carr announced yesterday that Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes will lead the prosecution. He also urged the Department of Justice and GBI to conduct an investigation into the process that delayed justice. I hold great confidence in Joyette, state law enforcement, and the Department of Justice. It is my belief that truth and justice will prevail in Georgia.
"A key part of our plan to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our state is contact tracing. With nearly 250 staff in the field today, the Department of Public Health is making progress. Under the leadership of Dr. Toomey, DPH plans to have 1,000 staff deployed in the coming weeks. To streamline contact tracing across the state, we are rolling out a new online monitoring tool - the Healthy Georgia Collaborative - which allows Georgians to identify contacts and monitor symptoms. Health data remains completely confidential. This monitoring tool does not collect any data other than what is entered by the contact. This is how the process works: residents who test positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by trained public health staff, who will work with that individual to recall anyone that they might’ve had close contact with while infectious. Those contacts will then be interviewed by DPH to help us map and isolate the spread of COVID-19 in communities across the state. If you are contacted by DPH staff, we strongly encourage you to participate in the contact tracing program. We need your help to defeat this virus. Together, we can continue to take measured steps forward.
"On April 20, I issued an executive order to reopen certain businesses that were shuttered during our statewide shelter in place. I am proud of these hardworking Georgians for following the guidance, keeping both their employees and customers safe. I also stand with the small business owners who decided not to reopen their doors. These men and women have a choice, and I appreciate the incredible challenges each of them faces every single day.
"Today I have issued a new executive order to extend several provisions, clarify existing guidelines for certain businesses, and provide guidance to other operators in our state. This order is issued as COVID-19 positive hospitalizations, ventilator use, and the percentage of positive cases continue to drop. It is based on data, science, and the advice of our public health officials. Many have warned of a 'second wave' and asked if we are willing to change course if conditions decline. Let me be clear: we will continue to track the numbers and continue to heed Dr. Toomey’s advice. We will take whatever action is necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of Georgians.
"In light of the new Executive Order, live performance venues, bars, and nightclubs must remain closed through May 31, 2020. I know this extension is difficult for many Georgia business owners and communities with music venues. However, we believe that waiting a little bit longer will enhance health outcomes and give folks the opportunity to prepare for safe reopening in the near future. All Georgians must continue to follow social distancing, and gatherings of more than ten people remain banned unless there is at least six feet between each person. The gatherings ban applies to all non-critical infrastructure businesses, local governments, and organizations of all types, including social groups, informal get-togethers, and recreational sports, just to name a few.
"We continue to strongly encourage people to wear face coverings when out in public, and we thank everyone for their willingness to do the right thing. The shelter in place provision for medically fragile and Georgians aged 65 and older remains in effect through June 12, 2020. Mandatory restrictions for sanitation and social distancing will remain in place for all non-critical infrastructure businesses, and for recently reopened businesses, we are extending industry-specific restrictions. Those will remain in place through the end of the month. As businesses slowly reopen and some enhance capacity, we know that many are safely returning to their place of employment.
"While returning to a new normal is exciting, the current guidelines make it difficult for parents to find childcare for their children. This new Executive Order will increase the number of people allowed in a single classroom of a childcare facility from ten to twenty people so long as staff-to-children ratios set by the Department of Early Care and Learning are also maintained. We are told by the Departments of Early Care and Learning and Public Health that this expansion can be done safely and allows for more facilities to reopen.
"Childcare facilities must continue to adhere to thirteen minimum, mandatory criteria to be able to operate, including strict screening procedures and sanitation mandates for frequently touched items and surfaces. In that same vein, countless families have reached out to my office to discuss how summer camps can safely operate as we battle the spread of COVID-19. Working closely with the Department of Public Health, constituents, and summer camp operators, we have developed strict criteria so that these camps can start planning now to reopen with safeguards in place. We are hearing that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will issue guidance soon. When that happens, their guidance will control, but until that time, we will put out guardrails so people can make plans. We have defined 'summer camp' as any entity offering organized sessions of supervised recreational, athletic, or instructional activities held between typical school terms, including entities commonly referred to as 'day camps.' Starting May 14, 2020, summer day camps are allowed to operate if they can meet thirty-two minimum, mandatory criteria. These requirements are extensive and cover a wide range of operations to ensure the safety of camp workers and participants of all ages.
"Even though we have these measures in place to allow for summer camps, we are not allowing overnight summer camps in Georgia at this time. We will continue to watch the data, keep a close eye on compliance, and make a decision on a case-by-case basis when Dr. Toomey and the Department of Public Health determine it is safe for overnight campers.
"Throughout this pandemic, our restaurant owners and their employees have done a remarkable job in keeping local families fed. These hardworking Georgians have followed the rules, doing the right thing, even when it wasn’t easy. In our new Executive Order, we are taking another step forward, empowering restaurants to expand operations safely if they so choose. Moving forward, we will allow ten patrons per 300 sq. ft. of public space in restaurants and dining rooms and increase the party size per table from six to ten people.
"For gyms and fitness centers, we have made some minor revisions to mandatory criteria - all based on public health guidance - to allow for enhanced flexibility, but strict social distancing and sanitation rules will still apply across the board. This crisis has been an unprecedented challenge for state government. Agencies have met this challenge and continued to provide critical services to the people of Georgia.
"I’m proud of the thousands of state employees who have done an incredible job teleworking and adapting to the new normal. To ensure that quality of service continues, starting May 18, specific divisions of state agencies will begin to phase back into limited, in-person operations. In my executive order, I have tasked the Department of Administrative Services with promulgating guidance for state agencies to safely reopen offices. As we work through the process, we will issue that guidance to employees, contractors, and constituents. We will make more detailed announcements in the coming days on how we will be phasing into limited, in-person operations at state agencies.
"I am very thankful to President Trump, Vice President Pence, and the Coronavirus Task Force for their leadership as we fight the spread of COVID-19. As of noon today, Georgia has received our first shipment of Remdesivir from the federal government. We have received thirty cases with forty vials of the drug per case, and we will be working with officials in the Department of Public Health to determine how it will be distributed. We also deeply appreciate the equipment and supplies that we have received from the Trump administration, including our May shipment of testing supplies. We had a great call yesterday with the Vice President and governors across the country, and we look forward to our continued partnership.
"Yesterday, the White House issued a call to action, encouraging states to aggressively test nursing home residents and staff over the next two weeks. We’ve been doing that for a few weeks now through the Georgia National Guard. As of today, they have tested 46% of all nursing homes residents and 24% of staff at those facilities. We estimate 46,000 people who still need to be tested. In total, the Guard has tested 142 nursing homes, and they’ll keep moving forward - like they have with their infection control teams - until they complete the mission.
"Speaking of testing, I did want to mention again that testing is available for all Georgians, regardless of whether you have coronavirus symptoms. Anyone can call their local health department to get scheduled for testing. They can also download the Augusta University ExpressCare app, visit augustahealth.org, or call (706) 721-1852.
"Staff will schedule your visit at one of our 105 state-run testing sites around Georgia. The percentage of positive cases for COVID-19 continues to drop even as we ramp up testing, which is very encouraging. But here are a few things everyone needs to know about our data moving forward: many healthcare facilities and labs are not reporting negative test results to the state. We are working with them to get this data collected and published.
"As we aggressively test more nursing homes and long-term care facilities, we may see a sharper increase in positive test results. By doing this, it will allow medical providers to intervene earlier and try to mitigate adverse outcomes among vulnerable Georgians. Right now, nursing home, assisted living, and personal care home residents and staff make up 18.5% of our total positive cases, and 49% of total deaths involve nursing home, assisted living, and personal care home residents. We ask everyone to continue to protect the elderly and medically fragile, and we will continue to work around the clock to ensure quick, convenient testing is available for all Georgians.
"Before I end this briefing, I want to emphasize a few points. Every day, we are seeing reports that more and more people are holding off on important medical screenings and vaccinations out of fear of exposure. Yesterday evening, I read a Wall Street Journal article that new cancer diagnoses have decreased by a staggering 30%. Please do not risk your health by delaying important appointments. Medical providers and healthcare facilities are open and have safeguards in place for patients.
"I want to renew the call to action for all Georgians to heed the advice of public health officials, avoid large gatherings, and help us slow the spread of COVID-19. Your cooperation is making a difference and saving lives. Finally, I want to give a shout-out to two hardworking Georgians who have worked tirelessly to help us keep everyone informed throughout this pandemic. Aaron Shoemaker and David Cowan report for duty to provide American Sign Language interpretation for deaf and hard of hearing Georgians at a moment’s notice. Their efforts are vital as we work together to stop the spread of COVID-19 and put Georgia back on the path to prosperity. So, Aaron and David, thank you for your service. And with that, I’ll open it up for questions."