Georgia shelter-in-place order set for Friday; schools to remain closed

Gov. Brian Kemp announced a statewide shelter-in-place order at an outdoor press conference in early April and has now lifted much of it starting May 1. The Republican governor announced his decision Thursday afternoon and urged people “to continue to stay home whenever possible.”John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp says he will issue a statewide shelter-in-place order in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, although many questions about what is in the order won’t be answered until Thursday when the document is published.

Kemp announced the upcoming order Wednesday as other governors in Florida, Mississippi and Nevada did the same and one day after President Donald Trump painted a bleak national picture at a Tuesday briefing, saying as many as 240,000 Americans could die even with tough restrictions.

The Republican governor also announced Wednesday that he will close k-12 public schools for the rest of the spring, with learning continuing online.

Kemp issued a limited shelter-in-place last week for the medically fragile but he had resisted a comprehensive statewide order, despite the urging of local officials and others.

He said Wednesday that he changed his mind because of new information on symptom-free people who can still spread the virus – information he called “a revelation and a game changer.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned this week that as many as 25% of people infected by the novel coronavirus feel fine but can still unwittingly spread the virus, even though public health officials have long cautioned that symptom-free people can spread the virus. Kemp said he’s been “following the data.”

Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health, said it was previously suspected that symptom-free carriers could be spreading the disease but much of the modeling had been done on those who showed signs of being sick.

New modeling of COVID-19 transmission data prompts the state’s new shelter-in-place restrictions, Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said Wednesday. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

“I think the important thing is the action is being taken and we really need the public’s cooperation to ensure that this is valued and also respected,” Toomey said. “I can tell you that even in my own community, I still have people say to me, ‘I don’t understand why you’re so upset about this. This is just like the flu.’

“This is absolutely not just like the flu. It’s many times more transmissible and it’s also much more deadly and we have absolutely no immunity to this,” she said.

As of Wednesday, 154 people had died in Georgia. More than 4,700 tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Kemp also said new modeling shows that Georgia will need more time to grow its hospital capacity and that more aggressive steps need to be taken ahead of April 23, when Georgia is expected to max out its capacity.

“We’re trying to ensure that other cities in Georgia – like Athens, like Macon, like Savannah – do not become like Albany, which now is fighting the worst fight of any place in Georgia and has among the highest rates of COVID-19 in the country and in the world,” Toomey said.

The shelter-in-place order will take effect Friday and run through April 13. Those who ignore it run the risk of a misdemeanor and a fine. The order will allow people to travel to some essential places, such as grocery stores.

“We are taking action to protect our hospitals, to help our medical providers and prepare for the patient surge that we know is coming,” Kemp said. “This action will ensure uniformity across jurisdictions for Georgians sheltering in place and help families and businesses be able to comply with its provisions.”