Gov. Kemp, DPH, GEMA, Dept. of Insurance, Georgia Guard, and AU President Keel Update Georgians on COVID-19

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Friday, May 8th, 2020

At the Georgia State Capitol, Governor Brian P. Kemp delivered the following update to Georgians on COVID-19. Governor Kemp was joined by Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson, Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden, Georgia Department of Insurance Commissioner General John King, and Augusta University President Dr. Brooks Keel.

"Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today.

"Before we begin our weekly briefing, I want to take some time to address the ongoing investigation involving Ahmaud Arbery’s death in Glynn County. Earlier this week, I watched a video depicting Mr. Arbery’s last moments alive. It is absolutely horrific, and Georgians deserve answers. I have confidence in Vic Reynolds and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. I know they will work around the clock to thoroughly and independently investigate Mr. Arbery’s death to find the truth. In these moments, please pray for his loved ones, the local community, and our state.

"We are living in unprecedented times here in Georgia and across the country. COVID-19 has threatened our health and well-being. This deadly virus has rocked our economy. While we have experienced some dark days on this journey, I am encouraged by our progress in this war. Most Georgians are taking this pandemic seriously, wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and following the CDC guidelines. I’m confident that if we remain vigilant, we will emerge from this stronger, more united, and victorious.

"I'm proud to report that we are seeing record highs in testing. Thanks to Georgia’s partnership with Augusta University, our university system, the private sector, and local public health officials, we’ve doubled our daily testing capacity and now have over 217,000 total tests reported to the state’s website. A few weeks ago, Georgia ranked 43rd out of 54 states and territories in testing per capita. Today, we are 29th according to the COVID-19 Mapping Project. Out of twenty-three states with more than five million people, we are now 12th in per capita testing. While I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, there’s more we can do to realize our full potential and enhance health outcomes.

"As we continue to expand testing and screening for COVID-19, we must also focus on lab capacity to process the testing specimens. Right now, we have more than sixty testing sites with more supply than demand. In accordance with new CDC guidance, the Department of Public Health and district offices are now encouraging all Georgians - even if they are not experiencing symptoms - to schedule an appointment with their healthcare provider, local health department, or get a screening through the AU Health ExpressCare app. Dr. Toomey contacted local health directors today to ensure they are aware of this guidance. Let’s build on this momentum in the days and weeks to come.

"I’m also proud to report record lows in ventilator use. Through our shelter in place order, we were able to slow the spread and strengthen our healthcare infrastructure. Because of your patience and your compliance, we reduced the amount of stress on our hospitals and their employees. Through this mitigation strategy, we were also able to enhance hospital bed capacity throughout Georgia.

"We have had our fair share of challenges over the last several weeks, but I'm proud of what we've accomplished together. When you look back on our successes in this battle against COVID-19, they all have something in common: partnerships. During this pandemic, businesses, academia, government, and hardworking Georgians have come together in numerous ways to address pressing - and future - needs in our state. Old Fourth Ward Distillery is making thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer. Kia donated face shields, and countless other restaurants and businesses have provided free meals to frontline healthcare workers. The Department of Economic Development now has over 130 Georgia suppliers on their list of businesses providing PPE and other equipment to help us fight this virus. On testing, CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have partnered with the state and our university system to test well over 1,000 Georgians a day. Sandy Springs-based company Ipsum Diagnostics has been supplying us with test kits for use all across the state. Peach State Health Plan and Quest Diagnostics are also delivering thousands of tests to Federally Qualified Health Centers around the state so all Georgians have access. And Google is working around the clock with Dr. Toomey and the Department of Public Health to dramatically increase contact tracing statewide. The list goes on and on. These partnerships have no doubt saved lives in every corner of our great state.

"Today, I am honored to announce another partnership with the private sector that will enhance our current efforts to screen and test more Georgians. The Peach Bowl, college football’s most charitable bowl organization, announced today that it will donate over one million dollars to the Augusta University Health System to help scale the telemedicine screening app. This is an incredibly generous gift, and we thank them for their support in our fight against COVID-19. Peach Bowl, Inc. operates the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and the organization has donated and committed more than $57 million in charity and scholarship to organizations in need. They created the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, and Peach Bowl proudly serves Atlanta’s Bowl game tradition since 1968. Peach Bowl joins The Augusta National, Taxslayer, and many more in supporting these efforts at Georgia’s health and sciences university. I want to personally thank my friend Gary Stokan and the Peach Bowl for helping us keep Georgians safe in our battle against COVID-19.

"While our state is taking measured steps forward, we remain focused on protecting the most vulnerable among us. Over half of all coronavirus deaths – and twenty percent of all cases in Georgia – are related to long-term care facilities. And in Georgia, folks with underlying health conditions and the medically fragile account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths in our state. These are heartbreaking statistics, and we are doing everything in our power to keep these Georgians safe.

"The Georgia National Guard has been the tip of the spear in our ongoing efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us. They’ve received national recognition for their incredible work with twelve other states - from Florida to Montana - replicating their procedures. To date, the Guard has conducted more than 1,200 infection control missions in long-term care facilities, with 375 out of 790 facilities receiving more than one mission visit.

"I’d like to thank the more than 3,000 Guardsmen who are on the frontlines with our first responders, health care personnel, long-term care staff, and critical infrastructure workers. These are Georgia heroes, and we cannot thank them enough.

"Yesterday, I spoke with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma about Georgia’s efforts to protect these vulnerable populations. She thanked us for our strong actions to fight COVID-19 in long-term care facilities and shared what the Trump administration is doing to enhance transparency and support states on the frontlines. Under the leadership of Commissioner Frank Berry and his team, the Department of Community Health has begun planning for in-person inspections of long-term care facilities to assist with infection control, monitoring, and compliance with federal and state regulations. Safety of our staff, employees, and residents remains our top priority, and as such, the Department will continue to work with GEMA to ensure care providers have appropriate PPE to limit potential exposure to facility residents and staff. To date, the Department of Community Health has deployed one hundred and twenty-five healthcare professionals to skilled-nursing facilities with more in the pipeline. Rest assured, we will do everything in our power to protect these vulnerable Georgians from harm.

"With record testing numbers, enhanced surge capacity, low ventilator use, and favorable data coming in from the Department of Public Health, we continue to take small, measured steps forward as a state. We want to again remind people to get important medical appointments and procedures done to maintain their health.

"As I have said many times before: We must protect both the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians. There are many people today who literally cannot afford to put food on the table. We must fight for both the public - and economic - health of our state.

"As we celebrate the success of partnerships today - Augusta University, Peach Bowl, and Georgia businesses, large and small - let’s remember that building a safer, stronger, healthier, and more prosperous state is a team sport.

"We may not agree on certain policies or belong to the same political party, but we all want the same things: a state where families are healthy, businesses are thriving, communities are flourishing, and people are optimistic about tomorrow. We want a Georgia where your zip code doesn’t define your potential, where opportunity exists for all hardworking Georgians. Now, more than ever, we need to put our differences aside and put Georgians first. Georgia families, Georgia workers, and Georgia businesses need us. Their future - and ours - hangs in the balance. I will now pass it on to Augusta University President, Dr. Brooks Keel."