ALBANY, Ga. (WRBL) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says the COVID-19 outbreak in Dougherty County is a cautionary tale for the rest of the state.
Just 80 miles below Columbus, the people of Albany are dealing with a full-blown health crisis caused by the coronavirus.
There are 12 people dead, 173 confirmed cases, 35 people hospitalized and 900 people awaiting test results — and 90 of those are in the hospital.
Those numbers came Wednesday afternoon in a news release from the Phoebe Healthcare system.
There are another 25 confirmed cases in Lee County, just north of Albany.
By comparison, there are only four confirmed cases in Muscogee County and one in Harris County.
In an exclusive interview with WRBL, Kemp said that group gatherings can’t happen because of the potential of broad community spread.
“Look, we got a breakout down there,” Kemp said. “No doubt about it. But there’s a reason for it. We had an infected person do the wrong thing and go to a funeral service.”
Everything stemmed from that, Kemp said.
“One person went to a funeral — I don’t know if they knew they were infected or didn’t,” Kemp said. “They infected everybody else. And then people went to another funeral, a fish fry, and some big case that was happening at the courthouse. Then, all of a sudden you have community spread and an outbreak. That’s what we don’t want to happen in Columbus.”
Those numbers in Georgia — more than 1,200 cases and 40 deaths — are on the rise. And the governor says as more test kits come into the state, they will continue to rise.
Kemp says his focus right now is on slowing, then stopping the spread of the coronavirus. He says Georgians must not congregate in groups of 10 or more. They must social distance at 6 feet apart or more.
But he stopped short of saying he will lock the state down.
“It is easy to say ‘shelter in place’ and lock everything down,” Kemp said. “But it’s a hard thing to do. It’s not realistic. We don’t have the amount of testing we need to get a handle on that and be able to do that.”
He is also focused on testing.
“The issue I am hearing with testing is not, necessarily, do we have enough tests, but how long it’s taking to get results back,” he said. “We are doing that in a timely way in the Georgia labs. The private-sector vendors it seems they are still taking four to five days to get test results. That’s very frustrating for us. And it’s very frustrating for those on the frontline of this in the hospitals.”
In Columbus, the drive-through site results have been slow to come back. WRBL has talked to five people who waited a week or more for the results.
Just because there are not many confirmed cases in your county, don’t be lulled into a sense of false security.
“There were some people in our state because they hadn’t had a positive case in their county and they may not have been taking this that seriously thinking it wasn’t going to get to them,” Kemp said. “And that’s just going to be the case.”
Kemp and other state officials will be holding a town hall Thursday night starting at 8 p.m. to further discuss COVID-19 in Georgia. WSAV will bring you live coverage on-air and online.