ATLANTA, Ga. (CW69 News at 10) — Unprecedented circumstances, like the coronavirus pandemic, require unprecedented measures to inform the public, like a virtual press conference.
Governor Brian Kemp held a rare online press conference with reporters, providing an update on Georgia’s efforts to combat the virus, while setting an example of social distancing. Kemp was joined by Georgia Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey and Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson, who also gave updates during the conference via the web.
Kemp said the number of positive coronavirus cases in Georgia has increased since yesterday from 121 in 23 counties to 146 cases in 27 counties as of today.
He said he is urging people to continue following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social distancing recommendation by avoiding public places and keeping your distance from people to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC discourages gatherings of more than 10 people at this time.
The governor is also urging people to continue supporting local restaurants by using drive-throughs, take-out orders or food delivery, referencing the tough economic environment in the days ahead.
“We gotta buckle down and support each other and get through this together,” said Kemp.
The GDPH posts an update detailing the number of confirmed cases every day at noon here.
Georgia Schools Update:
In his update on the schools, he confirmed today was the last day of classes statewide, with a mandate for all of them to close starting tomorrow through the end of March. He indicated he was working with State School Superintendent Richard Woods to watch where the trends are so they can make any necessary changes.
Medical Supply Shortage:
In terms of the shortage of medical supplies to combat the coronavirus, Kemp said the state has received a shipment from the Strategic National Stockpile and have supplies on order, including 100,000 masks and thousands of gloves and goggles. He said he was unsure of a delivery date. Kemp said officials have continued working with state and local agencies to address the shortage of supplies.
Quarantined Cruise Passengers from Georgia:
Kemp also discussed the status of the Grand Princess cruise passengers who arrived at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, after being quarantined on the ship for days off the coast of California. He said all Georgian passengers are now at home and are being self-quarantined and monitored by the Georgia Department of Health. Kemp said more than 100 people are set to leave the base to return to other states, and 160 will remain there for now.
Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson said a request was submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for 15,000 testing kits, 5,000 personal protection kits and for 36 public health officers.
Kemp confirmed seven trailers are currently at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County, and he said the one individual who was quarantined there has left, but a new patient is now there on site. He said the state is working on a new site for 20 trailers at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, and they expect them to be up and running by the end of the week.
Atlanta International Airport:
According to Kemp, the number of passengers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is down by 40%. He said the airport went from 2,400 flights yesterday to 2,200 today. In addition, he said a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent who tested positive for coronavirus is under quarantine, along with people who may have been in contact with the agent. Kemp also said the airport is having issues with TSA agents not showing up for work due to the ongoing circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
Kemp said, according to a report from Attorney General Chris Carr, there is an uptick in price-gouging to 29 cases. Kemp said the biggest cases involve grocery or other retail items. He said some of the gouging also involves alleged coronavirus testing, with certain sites charging up to $300 for a test. Kemp warns Georgians to call their doctor to make sure they are getting the most accurate information.
Testing for Coronavirus:
Georgia Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey discussed the state’s testing capacity and who needs to be tested.
Toomey said the state could only test through the CDC when the first known instances of coronavirus hit Georgia in January. Since then, she said over 420 individuals have been tested, and that capacity is expected to increase over the next several days as they get additional equipment and staff. She said the potential to send test materials to private companies has increased, with LabCorp and Quest now doing some of the testing.
According to Toomey, the state still does not have sufficient capacity to test the roughly 80% of people who have mild symptoms. She said they are “working closely with the medical community to ensure we keep individuals from flooding emergency rooms,” adding they are also working to set up testing capabilities in all of the health districts.
Toomey explained the CDC guidelines emphasize emergency responders and healthcare professionals should respond first to those most at risk: older individuals, those under nursing or hospice care and people with chronic conditions.
Small Business Losses:
Small businesses losing customers and money could soon qualify for government loans to help combat the negative impacts of the coronavirus on their businesses. Kemp said state officials have submitted the required paperwork to the Small Business Association to begin the process soon. Business owners can get updates on the process and look at other possible options here.