ATLANTA (WSAV) — Governor Brian Kemp has announced he will be issuing a shelter-in-place order for Georgia as the COVID-19 outbreak continues.
Kemp said he would be signing the executive order on Thursday to remain in effect through Monday, April 13. That’s when Georgia’s first-ever public health emergency declaration will expire unless extended.
The governor also announced that K-12 public schools will be closed for the rest of the school year, though online learning will continue.
“I want to thank all of the educators and superintendents that have stayed in touch with us through this process to make the best of a tough situation,” he said. “We will continue to work with them on the path forward.”
The University System of Georgia, made up of public colleges and universities, last week announced classes would continue online for the remainder of the semester.
For days, if not weeks, the governor has been pressed on the question of a statewide lockdown.
During a televised town hall last week, Kemp was presented with a comment made by a constituent who said he was “irresponsible” not to take further executive action.
The governor, at the time, argued that he couldn’t apply the same measures to all counties; what was issued in Fulton County may not have applied to Jeff Davis County.
Kemp changed his tune based on modeling that “has dramatically changed for Georgia” over the past 48 hours.
“The CDC has announced that individuals can be infected and begin to spread coronavirus earlier than previously thought, even if they have no symptoms,” Kemp explained, adding, “From a public health standpoint, this is a revelation and a game-changer.”
He also said that Georgia needs more time to prepare for “hospital surge capacity.”
“While we are making excellent progress with our team, we have got to be more aggressive,” Kemp stated.
As of Wednesday evening, more than 1,000 people are hospitalized in Georgia due to COVID-19. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, the state’s hospital resources are expected to peak mid-April.
“Now is the crunch time for us to lessen the peak,” Kemp said.
The details of Georgia’s shelter-in-place order will be made clear on Thursday but in most cases, the measure limits activity to account only for the necessities.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations remain open but non-essential businesses close. Restaurants that haven’t moved to drive-thru or takeout only services must do so.
“The grocers are ready for this,” Kemp said. “Just get what you need so you can shelter up for a while and stay home.”
Failure to comply with the executive order is typically considered a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine or jail time or both.
“Make no mistake,” the governor warned, “If we have those people out there that are not adhering to this or if they’re going to a facility and they’re not moving along then we will take that action.”
As for testing, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), said simply that “the more we test, the more we’ll see the spread of COVID-19 infection.”
Those who are medically fragile or working in health care have been prioritized for testing. She and Kemp didn’t give an exact estimate on when testing would become more widespread.
The governor said simply: “I know we’re doing a lot more than we were.”
“We can’t test our way out of this crisis,” Toomey added. “We have to take the community mitigation measures that have been proposed now.”
Practicing social distancing and self-isolating if sick remain among the top recommendations for slowing the spread of COVID-19.
As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, the DPH reports more than 150 deaths and over 4,700 cases of coronavirus across the state.