Kemp resists ordering business closings as COVID-19 deaths rise

Gov. Brian Kemp Monday said he will ban gatherings that don’t adhere to the six-foot separation rule, close bars and nightclubs and quarantine the state’s medically fragile to curb the spread of COVID-19. He's shown here at last week's livestream coronavirus briefing. Screenshot was taken from the GPB livestream

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday – when the number of people who have died of COVID-19 rose to 10 in Georgia – that he is still not looking to force people into quarantine, mandate business closures or enact a curfew statewide.

Lawmakers recently granted Kemp broader powers under Georgia’s first-ever public health emergency declaration.

But the governor said he believes many of the more drastic decisions are best left right now to local officials. Some cities, like Atlanta and Savannah, have already banned dine-in services at restaurants and shut down bars, gyms and other businesses where groups of people congregate in close quarters.

Kemp issued an executive order Monday to shut down the state’s public schools.

“I will tell you there are no easy answers and the guidance continues to change as we fight to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Kemp said during a livestreamed media briefing held Thursday afternoon.

Governors in some states, like Ohio, have ordered statewide business closures and banned mass gatherings in hopes of stopping the spread of novel coronavirus.

“I’ve been in touch with the community leaders in many of the hotspots that we’ve seen around the state, asking them what they need, if they needed me to act,” Kemp said Thursday, referring specifically to whether he was considering a mandatory statewide quarantine.

“And at this time, they are telling me that their communities are stepping up, they’re following the guidelines and the advice that we’re giving them and that is making a real difference, and they are saying, ‘Do not do this at this time,’” he said.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia spiked to 287 people Thursday, up from 197 the day before, and that count is expected to continue to grow as the virus spreads and as more test results come back. The fast-spreading virus has now reached 36 counties, with new cases in Bibb, Early, Glynn, Laurens, Muscogee and Peach counties.

The coronavirus outbreak has killed 10 people in these counties: Early, Fayette, Cobb, Floyd, Fulton and Dougherty counties.

Kemp did, however, encourage the state’s religious leaders to consider moving to an online service-only for now.

“We have seen several instances around the state where members of congregations have been affected and before they know it, they are spreading that in their local community,” Kemp said, adding that his own church shifted to an online service Sunday.

Even funerals have become risky events. Kemp said the four deaths in Dougherty may be linked to two local funerals. He said a local quarantine site was in the works to help stop the spread.

“We are on top of that situation, but we need the community’s help to stop that,” Kemp said.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.