Kemp: State ready to test, treat more people with mild COVID-19 symptoms

Gov. Brian Kemp encouraged many more Georgians to get tested for COVID at Monday's Capitol press conference. He was joined by Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Emergency Management Agency Director Homer Bryson and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp urged Georgians who are experiencing even mild symptoms to seek once-scarce COVID-19 testing, which the governor said is now being underused in Georgia.

“We have the tests, we have the physicians, we have the sites and we have the bandwidth. What we need now is more Georgians to participate,” Kemp said Monday at a media briefing held at the state Capitol. “And I’m calling on anyone who is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to take us up on this offer.”

Georgia has lagged in its testing capacity but has expanded its sites and partnerships over the last few weeks. Sunday, the governor’s office announced the launch of a mobile testing initiative with Walmart and eTrueNorth to bring drive-thru testing sites in Augusta, Milledgeville and Tifton.

About 127,000 tests for the novel coronavirus have been administered in Georgia as of Monday, and more than 24,000 of them yielded a positive diagnosis, according to the state Department of Public Health. Georgia is home to some 10.6 million people.

As of Monday evening, 1,000 people had died of COVID-19 in Georgia.

The state is trying to ramp up its testing capacity as Kemp comes under intense national scrutiny since he announced a week ago that he would allow businesses that provide close-up services to reopen with limitations.

Tattoo parlors, nail and hair salons, barbershops and other businesses could reopen their doors starting Friday, and restaurants and movie theaters could welcome back customers through their doors starting Monday with restrictions.

Kemp’s controversial decision put him out ahead of governors who had enacted restrictions and drew the ire of President Donald Trump, who repeatedly and publicly voiced his displeasure with Kemp last week for moving forward before meeting White House guidelines for reopening.

Kemp tried to put the rare rift with his political patron behind him Monday, and he accused the media of trying to sow division – echoing a favorite complaint from Trump.

“Rest assured, the president and I share a common goal and that is to protect both the lives and the livelihoods of Georgians, as well as the American people,” Kemp said.

Kemp defended his decision to reopen businesses that put people in close contact with each other, whether in the barber chair or in front of a manicurist. He said he has relied on public health data, and on Monday he cited positive reports from some hospital officials.

“(Trump) knows like I know: We cannot continue this way economically,” Kemp said. “We’re looking at Depression-like unemployment. We are facing hardships now of trying to feed everybody, which is amazing to even think that you could have a time in our country when six, eight weeks ago, we had the best economy we’ve ever had in Georgia.

“And it has all tumbled off a cliff, like it has in every state,” he said.

Kemp’s shelter-in-place order is set to expire this Thursday, but the order will stay in effect for the state’s “medically fragile” – who represent the first community in Georgia that faced restrictions – through at least May 13. He hasn’t said yet whether he will broadly extend his order for other Georgians to stay home.

Benny Tate, senior pastor at Rock Springs Church in Milner Georgia, prays during a “day of prayer” service held at the state Capitol Monday. “I remember a few years back coming to this very same Capitol, and we came here and we prayed for rain. And God responded and God is going to respond again,” Tate said in remarks to the small group assembled. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder

His briefing followed a “day of prayer” service that Kemp convened at the state Capitol with more than a dozen socially distanced religious leaders hailing from across the state. House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan were set to appear with him as of Friday, but their spokespersons cited a scheduling conflict for their absence (one said the event was unexpectedly moved from Thursday).

For some, the service was reminiscent of former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s earnest prayers for rain amid a drought in 2007.

“I remember a few years back coming to this very same Capitol, and we came here and we prayed for rain,” Benny Tate, senior pastor at Rock Springs Church in Milner Georgia, said during the event.

“And God responded and God is going to respond again,” Tate said.

For more information: 

The state Department of Public Health COVID-19 hotline can be reached at (844) 442-2681. Those seeking testing through the state must first reach out to their primary care doctor or a medical professional at an urgent care or a federally qualified health center.

Augusta University Health System is also offering free, statewide screening and testing through telemedicine. As of Monday, the system had done more than 2,000 screenings and referred 73% of those people on for testing. For more information, visit AugustaHealth.org, download AU Health ExpressCare on a smartphone or call (706) 721-1852.

For more details about the mobile testing initiative, visit www.doineedacovid19test.com.