By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp said he does not plan currently to impose any statewide mandatory curfews, business closures or forced quarantines following the confirmed deaths Thursday of 10 people infected with coronavirus in Georgia.
For the time being, the governor said he will leave it up to local officials whether to shut down businesses or require people to stay home. He is urging people to avoid social gatherings, wash their hands regularly and call their doctor first before showing up at the hospital if they are sick.
“We are all in this fight together and together we will emerge stronger than ever,” Kemp said in an online news conference late Thursday afternoon.
The number of positive COVID-19 cases rose from 197 to 287 from Wednesday to Thursday among 35 Georgia counties, while known deaths traced to the respiratory increased to 10. State health officials expect to see more confirmed cases and deaths as testing continues and the virus spreads within local communities.
Kemp’s office confirmed the deaths caused by coronavirus as of Thursday include one in Early County, one in Fayette County, four in Dougherty County, one in Floyd County, two in Fulton County and one in Cobb County.
State health officials are prioritizing tests for the elderly, people with chronic health conditions and health-care workers at hospitals that are running low on protective gear. As confirmed cases swell, Georgia is also beginning to set up a handful of “high-capacity” regional testing sites coordinated with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in parts of the state where the virus has spread especially quickly, Kemp said.
One testing site is being located in Cherokee County to field demand for testing in metro Atlanta and in Rome, said the state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey. That site should be ready to open early next week and could have a capacity for 100 tests per day, she said.
Another testing site will be located in Albany, where dozens of people have already tested positive for the virus at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Close to 500 more were still awaiting test results Thursday, hospital officials said.
“We are seeing community transmission, particularly in these hotspot areas,” Toomey said Thursday.
Kemp urged local churches to move services online so congregants can avoid potential COVID-19 exposure. He said there have been “several instances around the state” of people contracting via in-person church activities.
The governor added state officials are awaiting word from the federal government on how to roll out a vaccine for coronavirus locally “when this becomes a reality.”
As for Georgia’s testing volume, Toomey said the state health lab has purchased 500 kits that collect testing specimens, which have been in short supply and will help boost the number of tests that can be done per day. So far, health officials have conducted around 500 diagnostic tests at the lab while more than 1,300 commercial tests have also been done, Kemp said.
Toomey said primary care providers who lack the ability to conduct their own tests are being authorized to refer patients to local hospitals or the state lab for testing. The state has also set up a hotline phone number, 1-844-442-2681, for people to ask questions about coronavirus and seek guidance on what to do if they feel sick.
“It’s going to take this collective effort of working together to make sure we can combat this virus,” Toomey said.