Outbreak worries, closings mount as first Georgia COVID-19 death reported

Gov. Brian Kemp and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (right) are trying to resolve a stalemate over the city's coronavirus restrictions that exceed the governor's ongoing orders. In March as the virus spread, the governor worked closely with the mayor, who served on Kemp's Coronavirus Task Force. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia’s first confirmed death tied to the COVID-19 fits the demographic most susceptible to the disease caused by a new coronavirus: A senior with underlying health issues.

The state’s top elected officials and public health leaders announced at a Capitol press conference Thursday the state will increase efforts to try to limit the spread of the disease that claimed the life of a 67-year-old Cobb County man. Gov. Brian Kemp said the state is sending a stronger message that precautions must be taken to protect the vulnerable.

People older than 60 and people with serious chronic medical conditions are at highest risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I’m calling on all families across Georgia to get together and talk about how they’re going to protect their grandparents, how they’re going to protect their loved ones with health conditions, and how the game plan for getting them what they need, groceries, prescription and other necessary supplies,” Kemp said Thursday.

As Georgia’s number of reported COVID-19 cases climbed above 30 by Thursday afternoon, school systems quickly announced suspended school years and state lawmakers abruptly paused the session after Friday.

Meanwhile, state workers will start working from home unless their job requires them to come into the office or work with the public, Kemp said.

The University System of Georgia and multiple school districts throughout metro-Atlanta and beyond announced Thursday that they will temporarily close because of the virus. Nearly 330,000 students attend Georgia’s public colleges and universities.

And students at Clark-Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College are taking all courses online for now. 

The Legislature’s break was announced during Thursday’s Crossover Day, the 28th day of the session and an important deadline for bills to clear at least one chamber.

“Our hope and prayer is that we are overreacting but I would rather do it this way than to underreact,” House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said. “We will not be here for a few days and hopefully it won’t be long.”

The governor also dismissed the notion that the state is overacting in its response to the virus. He announced new task forces Thursday as the state continues to deal with not only the health aspect but also the potential economic downturn.

A big concern for state officials and Georgians across the state is the short supply of testing for the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The number of infected Georgians is likely much higher, but tracking is limited to only 50 daily tests, said Kathleen Toomey, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.

That number should double next week as more testing resources are available in Georgia and should continue to increase as private testing labs join into the fold, she said.

Toomey encouraged people who suspect they may have been infected to contact their doctor. About 80% of the cases are mild and it’s difficult to discern whether it’s coronavirus or other viral infections like the flu because the symptoms are the same.

If you have a suspicion, particularly if you’ve been in contact with someone with COVID-19, or have traveled, that you let the provider know ahead of time and go through those steps to ensure the safety of other patients,” Toomey said.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.