ATLANTA — Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, stepping outside the State Capitol in downtown Atlanta on a brilliant, cool, April 1 afternoon, delivered bad news.
“We’ve got to be more aggressive,” he said. “I think the issue is, we still continue to have people that are not taking this seriously.”
And with straight talk, he told reporters at a news conference that it is now clear that no one is able to know how many Georgians are infected with the coronavirus. Some don't even realize they're infected, they show no symptoms, and they’re spreading it unknowingly to others.
“From a public health standpoint, this is a revelation and a game-changer,” the governor said, explaining one reason he decided to issue a strict, statewide stay-at-home order, including keeping all K-12 public schools closed for the rest of the school year.
He said during Wednesday's news conference that the order would have exceptions, so people can go to the grocery store and the pharmacy, and run other necessary errands.
And on Thursday, he signed the order, which will go into effect on Friday, April 3 and continue through April 13.
"Essential services" are permitted under the order, but are limited to obtaining necessary supplies and services for a household - like food, medicine, sanitation. The order asks that preference should be given to online ordering, home delivery and curbside-pickup whenever possible.
Georgia's statewide shelter-in-place order: Here's what you need to know
The order comes with teeth.
In this order, Governor Kemp authorized the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Safety and basically any other state officer the governor or Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security deputizes to enforce the business restrictions.
Those officers are expected to give the “business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization not in compliance” notice before mandating the closure, according to the order. The Georgia National Guard and the Department of Public Safety are also requested to “assist” in enforcing the order.
“We’re definitely going to be enforcing it with state law enforcement and other people that I have the ability to deputize,” Kemp said Wednesday, before he signed the order. “My directive is not to go around and lock a bunch of people up. … What we want to do is get people to comply with this. Because if we write somebody a ticket ... hopefully, they won’t do it again, but they still did it in the first place and put somebody at risk.”
Governor Kemp said he is trying not to threaten, but to encourage people to watch out for each other by staying away from each other.
“It is not the government that is going to solve that problem. It is the community at large. And we just need to do this for a few more weeks," Kemp said. "Regardless of how long this goes on, now is the crunch time for us to lessen the peak. ... I want to encourage my fellow Georgians to hang in there. I know that you’re tired of this, I know you want to return to business as usual, but we must first overcome the obstacles that we have in our path.”
Governor Kemp said his task force continues to take inventories of all available hospital beds and ventilators in the state. He said the models he has seen currently project that Georgia hospitals will be at peak capacity on April 23.
The state has bought four medical pods to serve as mobile units, adding to the inventory. They have 20 to 24 beds each, and one nursing station, each. He is asking FEMA to authorize military medical providers to staff the mobile units.
The state has suspended Certificate of Need regulations to allow hospitals to expand as they see fit, immediately.
Georgia National Guard troops will be deployed to hot spots across the state, in addition to Albany and Dougherty County, to assist hospitals.
And more than 100 National Guard troops will be assigned to certain long-term living facilities, including nursing homes, that need help moving residents, and sanitizing the facilities.
The governor also outlined a new, “innovative” public-private partnership to increase testing to more than 3,000 samples a day.
Another effect of so many people out-of-work and so many people working at home is an increase in domestic violence. Governor Kemp said one metro Atlanta hospital told him that, at that facility alone, there has been a 15 percent increase in domestic violence cases since early March.
Governor Kemp urged people who need help to call the Georgia Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-334-2836.
He also said that, since children are not attending school, there has been a decrease in reports of child abuse. Teachers are not able to spot signs of abuse. He urged anyone who is aware of child abuse to call 855-GACHILD, or 855-422-4453.
The governor said he’s aware that “hundreds of thousands of Georgians are facing financial ruin because of this virus … It is a frightening thing.”
He quoted a Bible verse, Joshua 1:9, to encourage everyone to “be strong and courageous … Doctors, nurses, medical staff, be strong and courageous, as you have been. To our first responders, everyone else on the ground fighting this fight from a medical perspective, truck drivers, grocery store workers, food delivery workers, be strong and courageous. Mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers, be strong and courageous. Hardworking Georgians from every corner of our state, now is the time to fight, and continue to be strong and courageous … We are going to win this, together. And we’re not going to leave anyone alone. So be strong and courageous.”