Gov. Kemp extends executive order, COVID-19 restrictions

Governor Brian Kemp has signed an executive order extending the Public Health State of Emergency until January 8.

The governor's order extends current COVID-19 restrictions.

The order also allows for the COVID-19 vaccines to be administered in a drive-through setting.

“To help us speed up the vaccine distribution process and delivery process, in that order, we’re going to allow nurses and pharmacists to delivery that vaccine in a drive-through type setting,” the governor said. “So, when we do get the vaccine that will just be another way to get folks vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

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It will also permits both groups to observe patients for the required 15 minutes window after they receive the vaccine.

The governor also encouraged Georgians who traveled or were part of a holiday gathering to get tested this week.

Although there has been a dip in positive test results that’s likely related to the holidays, Georgia is still averaging more than 3,000 confirmed and probable cases a day. The state has recorded nearly 472,000 confirmed and probable cases and nearly 9,500 confirmed and probable deaths, according to the state Public Health Department. School-aged children recorded their highest infection rate last week since the state began releasing numbers by age groups, passing the previous summer peak.

One measure not affected by the holidays continues to worsen. Nearly 2,200 people were in Georgia hospitals on Monday with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The last time there were so many was on Aug. 26, as the state was declining from a peak in hospitalizations of 3,200 on July 31. Statewide, there’s still room in intensive care units, with those beds running at 81% capacity, but 16 Georgia hospitals were diverting ICU patients on Monday, including all three hospitals in Macon, and five of the 11 hospitals in the Atlanta-based Piedmont Healthcare system.

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The virus remains worst in northwest Georgia around Dalton, with more than 1 in 100 residents in both Murray and Whitfield counties testing positive in the two weeks that ended Friday. The state identifies 67 of Georgia’s 159 counties as having high transmission.

The impact of the pandemic has been heavy at nursing homes, which have recorded nearly a third of all of Georgia’s deaths.

Statewide, 661 nursing and assisted living homes had recorded more than 17,000 cases of COVID-19, representing more than 40% of all residents, according to the state Department of Community Health. Another 9,300 employees have tested positive.

Kemp has deployed National Guard teams to try to control infections at long-term care facilities. The state is spending $78 million in federal coronavirus aid to test staff members at nursing homes and another $46 million to boost staffing at more than 160 nursing homes through the end of the year.

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Nursing home owners expressed gratitude for the aid, but pressed Kemp on Monday to continue the support into 2021, saying they had lost many long-term employees and were having trouble hiring new ones. They also made a subtle pitch for higher Medicaid payments, which finance the operation of many nursing homes.

“Obviously it’s hard to get new people in because of the wages we are able to pay,” said Ron Westbury, whose company owns four nursing homes in middle Georgia.

Kemp was noncommittal, saying “we will continue to support your teams in any way that we can,” while a spokesperson didn’t immediately answer more specific questions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report