Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Saturday signed a public health state of emergency in response to COVID-19.
Here are his remarks, made in a televised address:
"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."