Kemp renews public health emergency, COVID-19 executive order

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has extended two executive orders Wednesday. The governor signed to extend the  Public Health State of Emergency and reaffirming current safety measures for the state during the on-going coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Brian Kemp extended the underlying state of emergency that allows him to issue other orders, which had been set to expire Oct. 10, until Nov. 9. The Republican pushed back the expiration of a series of rules and guidelines related to the pandemic from Oct. 1 until Oct. 15.

Georgia has recorded more than 318,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus overall. The state’s seven-day average of new cases has fallen below 1,200 a day, a level equal to where it was in late June but still above the lowest point in late May. Georgia has ranked 24th in the country for new cases per capita in the past two weeks, down from a point during the summer when it was worst nationwide for that measure.

One complicating factor is the increasing usage of rapid antigen tests, which aren’t yet recorded in state figures. Department of Public Health spokesperson Nancy Nydam said the state has recorded more than 28,000 positives from those tests, but they are not yet routinely published.

“Discussions are ongoing about when they will be included on the website,” Nydam wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

The share of positives on nasal swab PCR tests has fallen to a rolling seven-day average of 6.4%, getting close to the 5% level that experts say indicates a state is doing enough testing to catch outbreaks. The number of people hospitalized also continues to creep down, now at the same level as in late June.

Fewer new deaths are being recorded, even as the state’s total rose to 7,021 Wednesday. But with three months left in the year, if Georgia averages 33 deaths a day, it will surpass 10,000 deaths for the year. The state has averaged 35 deaths a day over the past week.

Kemp changed his orders to allow restaurant and bar workers diagnosed with COVID-19 to return to work once they’ve been symptom free, without medication, for 24 hours, down from a previous three days. Spokesman Cody Hall said that was in accord with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor also acted to allow the state to grant college aid to certain students who haven’t been able to take the SAT or ACT college tests. Scheduled dates to take those tests have been repeatedly canceled in some locations because of the pandemic.

The Georgia Student Finance Commission can grant Zell Miller Scholarships to otherwise eligible 2020 high school graduates as long as they file a qualifying test score by June 30, 2021. The commission can also give the less-lucrative Hope Scholarship to students who haven’t graduated from eligible high schools as long as they file a qualifying score by that date. Most high school graduates can qualify for the HOPE Scholarship based on high school grades alone.

Kemp on Tuesday told reporters that he would keep the limit on public gatherings without social distancing at 50 people, despite some suggestions that he lower the limit to 20. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey don’t want to make rules people aren’t going to follow

“It’s a great idea, but people are over that. One of the things that Dr. Toomey and I have tried to do is to make sure that we’re putting things out there that people can buy into,” he said. “And to go backwards on that, I just don’t think people are going to comply with it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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