A statewide shelter-in-place order that starts Friday evening will have far-reaching effects on Georgians for more than a week, as state officials ramp up efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The order will shut down much of the state and is meant to keep Georgians in their homes until April 13. Residents can still leave for life’s most basic needs, such as medical care, behavioral health treatment or groceries, but even with food, people are urged to seek out curbside or delivery services that will keep them out of stores.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s action, which overrides any local order, takes effect at 6 p.m. Friday.
Workers who keep the state’s most essential infrastructure running – like utility workers – or who provide the basic services – such as a hospice worker – will be granted more leeway.
Religious and funeral services can go on, so long as gatherings of more than 10 require attendees to stay six feet apart. People can still golf, visit state parks and exercise outdoors, as long as groups of people also maintain their distance from one another. Restaurant service is now limited statewide to delivery and curbside pickup.
The governor’s office released this 22-page document in an attempt to answer some common questions, such as does someone need a letter to prove they can keep working (the answer is no)?
Those who ignore the order will first receive a warning, but if someone refuses to comply, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.
“We don’t want to have to have a law enforcement official go up and write somebody a warning or write them a ticket, but we will. We’d rather people just comply and try to do the right thing,” Kemp said at a Wednesday press briefing.
The shelter-in-place order is meant to buy Georgia more time to build up its hospital capacity ahead of April 23, when new models show the system’s capacity will be maxed out.
Shortly before the release of the order, the state Department of Public Health emphasized the reasons for the order in a press advisory, pointing to specific findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Specifically, the agency says stronger measures are needed because of a finding confirmed Monday that shows as much as 25% of infected people are symptom-free, as CDC Director Robert Redfield told WABE.
Redfield also told WABE that infected people may be spreading the virus as early as 48 hours before they show symptoms – another statistic the state agency cited Thursday.
“Until now, containing the spread of COVID-19 has been based on early detection and isolation of people with symptoms of the virus,” the public health department’s Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said in a statement. “Social distancing and keeping people apart from each other are now more than just recommendations; they are the best weapons we have to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
State officials were less clear Wednesday when announcing that a shelter-in-place order was coming.
“What we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now that if you start feeling bad stay home. Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad,” Kemp said at a press briefing Wednesday. “Well, we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours.”
The Republican governor, who had resisted calls from local officials and others to call for a statewide shelter-in-place, said the new information was “a revelation and a game changer.”
Those comments triggered immediate backlash and became national news. Democrats and others expressed disbelief, and model and writer Chrissy Teigen tweeted this to her more than 12 million followers: “I am very dumb and I knew this.”
The Democratic Party of Georgia sent reporters a timeline Thursday from the Washington Post that noted national health officials started publicly voicing concerns about asymptomatic transmission in late January.
“Health officials knew. Americans knew. Brian Kemp failed to act, and now Georgians are paying the price,” said Maggie Chambers, the party’s spokeswoman.
The governor’s spokesman, Candice Broce, brushed off the criticism as a partisan attack, and she has rejected comments from critics who she said have taken Kemp’s remarks out of context.
“It’s disappointing Democrats would intentionally mischaracterize the governor’s speech to score political points in a pandemic. They need to rise above the partisan attacks,” Broce said.
As of Thursday evening, 176 Georgians had been killed by COVID-19. More than 5,400 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.