ATLANTA - Governor Brian P. Kemp along with Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson, and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden held a press conference on April 27, 2020 as the state reopens restaurants for dine-in customers again.
Governor’s office released a full transcript of what the governor stated at the beginning of the briefing. It did not include questions and answers.
The following is that transcript:
"Good afternoon. Today I’m joined by General Tom Carden, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, and GEMA Director Homer Bryson.
"Before we get started, I want to thank the faith leaders and Georgians who participated in our day of prayer. In our fight against COVID-19, we must continue to pray for our healthcare workforce, frontline workers, law enforcement, and Georgians affected by the coronavirus.
"As of noon today, we have 23,773 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 942 deaths, and a total of 127,169 tests. Through the leadership of public health departments, the National Guard, partnerships with Augusta University, CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and others, our testing numbers are quickly increasing – but more must be done.
"As of this morning, Georgia ranks 13th among states and territories in the total number of tests, and for per capita testing, we are now 36th overall. In less than one week, Georgia moved up from 42nd in per capita testing to 36th. We still have work to do, and we will keep fighting to improve testing access and capacity.
"From the beginning – when we launched the Coronavirus Task Force and held our first press conference – we promised to lead with transparency and provide regular updates as we fight this virus together. The Department of Public Health has worked tirelessly to integrate information for testing, hospitalizations, and transmission to keep the public informed. We realized as a team that we can provide a more unified, user-friendly platform for Georgians in every corner of our state.
"Earlier today, we unveiled a new COVID-19 dashboard. It offers interactive reports which track emerging indicators, rates of growth, and outcomes of COVID-19 interventions. Geo-mapping capabilities support our efforts to identify and address emerging hotspots. The dashboard allows decision-makers to evaluate multiple scenarios to identify vulnerable populations, such as healthcare workers, the medically fragile, and communities with at-risk populations. This data is presented in multiple formats, including an interactive map where users can hover to see key statistics, such as the incidence rate per 100,000 people in a county’s population. Additionally, charts and statistics display demographic information for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Most information will be updated hourly, but the total number of tests will continue to be updated twice per day. Right now, the new dashboard is accessible through the same website address, but the format is easier to use.
"As I’ve said many times, the expansion of testing is key to our fight against COVID-19. For weeks, the state has worked closely with private labs and local health departments to address the need for more testing and ramp up capacity in each region of Georgia. We have leveraged partnerships with well-respected companies – like CVS, Walmart, and Walgreens – to open more specimen collection sites and encourage symptomatic Georgians to get tested. Last week, we launched a new partnership with Augusta University Health System for free, statewide COVID-19 screening and testing by leveraging the power of telemedicine. Since then, Augusta University Health has conducted 2,059 screenings with its clinicians and referred 1,513 symptomatic Georgians – or 73 percent – for COVID-19 testing.
"We have the tests; we have the physicians; we have the sites; and we have the bandwidth. We just need more Georgians to participate. Right now, all symptomatic Georgians can take advantage of this resource, and I am calling on anyone who is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to act. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following symptoms are consistent with coronavirus infection and may appear two to fourteen days after exposure:
● Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
● Muscle pain
● Sore throat
● Loss of taste or smell
"To get a free screening by an Augusta University Health System doctor, visit AugustaHealth.org, download AU Health ExpressCare on your smartphone, or call (706) 721-1852. If you meet criteria for testing, staff will contact you to schedule a test at one of the state’s designated testing locations near your home. From there, we will leverage the power of several key academic institutions in the state to process tests, including Augusta University, Georgia State University, and the Georgia Public Health Lab. In roughly seventy-two hours, you will be able to access your test results via a secure patient portal, and a medical provider will contact you directly if you are positive.
"Since the start of the public health state of emergency, local public health test sites across Georgia have collected more than 32,000 specimens for COVID-19 testing. Last week alone, by aggressively pushing for more testing, local departments collected 12,086 specimens for testing – a 64 percent increase from the previous week. Georgia’s public health departments now have forty-nine test sites open across the state.
"Yesterday, we announced a partnership with Walmart, eTrueNorth, and state and local officials to set up drive-thru sites in communities with limited testing access. Beginning today, a mobile testing unit will now serve Augusta, Milledgeville, Tifton, and the surrounding regions on a rotating basis. This unit will test Georgians with symptoms of COVID-19, and healthcare providers and first responders can be tested whether or not they are exhibiting symptoms. Georgians can make an appointment at www.DoINeedaCOVID19Test.com and on-site scheduling will also be available. We are grateful to Walmart, eTrueNorth, and community leaders for their help to get this operation up and running.
"To prepare for patient surge, our hospitals have worked around the clock to identify hundreds more general use and critical care beds for COVID-19 treatment. Hospitals were able to identify hundreds more, and as of this morning, we have 1,023 critical care beds available for patients. It’s the highest number of critical care beds that we’ve had available since hospitals began tracking the data.
"Ventilator use has also declined over the past few weeks. There are roughly 1,000 ventilators in use across Georgia with more than 1,800 ventilators available for a total capacity of more than 2,800.
"Currently, there are nine recovering COVID-19 patients at the alternate care facility at the Georgia World Congress Center. They were transferred from Grady, Emory, and WellStar to open acute care hospital beds for incoming patients. We continue to coordinate with our hospitals to monitor capacity and, if needed, accept non-critical or non-intensive care patients.
"In Southwest Georgia, we partnered with local leaders to build out Phoebe North in Albany for use by nearby Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Of the twelve ICU rooms completed on April 20, ten are currently occupied, and out of thirty general patient rooms that we built, nineteen are currently occupied. By April 29, we expect to have an additional twenty-nine rooms with a minimum of fifteen new ICU rooms. Although we are seeing declining transmission in the community, we will continue to identify opportunities for expanded access to ensure the locals have what they need to fight the virus.
"As I’ve mentioned previously, the state purchased four temporary hospital units to deploy to Albany, Rome, Macon, and Gainesville. By May 6, we will complete installation of units at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, Floyd Medical Center in Rome, and Navicent Health in Macon. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital will gain twenty-four general hospital beds, Floyd Medical Center in Rome will gain six critical care beds and fourteen general hospital beds, and Navicent Health in Macon will gain seven critical care beds and seventeen general hospital beds. By May 14 when installation of the fourth unit is complete, Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville will gain ten critical care beds and ten general hospital beds.
"Across the nation, the coronavirus has had a devastating impact on long-term care facilities, putting vulnerable populations at increased risk and causing alarm among public health officials, healthcare professionals, and families. Georgia’s battle against COVID-19 in these facilities wages on, and we are fighting it with everything in our power to keep the medically fragile and elderly out of harm’s way. On April 8, I signed an order mandating strict sanitation protocols and changes in existing living arrangements - including a ban on visitors except for end-of-life circumstances - to stop the spread and improve conditions. The Department of Community Health has been working day and night to check for compliance and hold facilities accountable. Surveyors are contacting facilities daily to ensure they are utilizing appropriate resources to safeguard residents and staff.
"The Department is also publishing reports every Monday through Friday to show COVID-19 case numbers and deaths in licensed facilities, giving families the transparency that they deserve to protect their loved ones. The Department has also recently launched a temporary nurse aide training program to address staffing challenges in long-term care. This program was established with assistance from the Georgia Health Care Association and Alliant Health Solutions to provide quick onboarding for nurse aides needed to care for residents during this emergency period. I commend Commissioner Frank Berry and his team for developing these resources for Georgia families.
"For weeks now, my team has worked closely with the Trump Administration and our federal counterparts to mitigate the impact of coronavirus in Georgia. Our decisions and direction are informed by data and public health recommendations, and we remain focused on protecting the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians.
"To slow the spread of COVID-19 and prepare for hospital surge capacity, we asked Georgians to shelter in place and closed specific businesses throughout our state. Most businesses remained open with restrictions to ensure community health and well-being. We were successful in our efforts to protect Georgians and our state's healthcare infrastructure. With favorable data and approval from health officials, we took a measured step forward by opening many shuttered businesses throughout Georgia for limited operations. Starting today, theaters may reopen and restaurants and dining rooms, including those at private social clubs, are allowed to resume dine-in services if they meet certain mandatory criteria to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"Bars, nightclubs, operators of amusement park rides, and live performance venues will remain closed, and the shelter in place order remains in effect through April 30, 2020. Medically fragile and elderly Georgians must continue to shelter in place at least through May 13, and as we assess the situation, we will continue to provide updates.
"Over the weekend, the Department of Public Safety was on call to respond to complaints regarding compliance with the executive orders for specific businesses reopening. On Saturday, none of our nine Georgia State Patrol command centers reported any sustained complaints of non-compliance. On Sunday, Georgia State Patrol received twelve calls with only two sustained complaints, both involving large gatherings. Officers used those opportunities to raise awareness about social distancing rules – as they have been doing for weeks now – and both groups voluntarily dispersed.
"Georgians are heeding the advice of public health officials and law enforcement to ensure the health and well-being of customers and workers, but we will continue to monitor compliance in every region of our state. Before I move on, I want to take some time to thank our law enforcement community for their work through this pandemic. Like our healthcare workers, they are working long hours to keep Georgians safe in every zip code, and we appreciate their sacrifices. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, including their loved ones, and please pray for the loved ones of fallen Smyrna officer Christopher Ewing, who lost his life in the line of duty a few days ago. He was beloved by his community, and he will be sorely missed.
"Working with Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Santiago Marquez – who serves on our Community Outreach Committee – and Insurance Commissioner John King, we are strengthening efforts to inform Georgia’s Latino community about the risks of COVID-19. Partnering with the Mexican Consulate, General King and Mr. Marquez will continue to actively engage communities across our state, starting with Hall County. Over the past few weeks as other areas of our state have seen reduced transmission of the virus, the Gainesville area has experienced an increase in cases, and our hospital partners in the area are seeing more hospitalizations. General King is there today speaking with leaders in the poultry industry to ensure that their workers understand public health guidance and that we continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Under the leadership of General Carden, the Georgia National Guard has worked tirelessly to assist emergency response efforts across our state. Currently, there are 3,145 soldiers, airmen, and state defense force personnel engaged in the COVID-19 response with infection control teams, medical support teams, food bank support, school lunch delivery, and general support teams as needs arise. Right now, there are 978 personnel working in sixty-nine infection control teams assigned to decontaminate Georgia’s 790 long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, personal care homes, community living arrangements, hospice, and similar facilities. To date, these dedicated teams have provided critical support – by sanitizing the facility and training staff on enhanced infection control protocols – to 710 facilities, which is 90 percent of Georgia’s long-term care facilities, with some receiving multiple visits.
"Given the heightened risk of adverse consequences for the medically fragile and elderly, this work by the Guard is truly lifesaving. Their efforts have been highlighted by the Trump administration as well as national, state, and local media, and they have started to train other states on their practices. Their hard work doesn’t stop there. Right now, the Guard has 206 personnel in twenty medical support teams deployed to twenty hospitals in Georgia, lending a helping hand to our healthcare workforce and necessary medical care to patients. They have 190 personnel in seven hospital entry support teams deployed to conduct patient arrival screening at healthcare facilities. 170 soldiers are supporting eight food banks, loading and unloading shipments and packing containers for distribution - and at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, supporting the movement of six million pounds of food, the equivalent of five million meals. There are fifty-five service members helping with school lunch deliveries, supporting the delivery of over 137,000 meals to students in Fulton County alone.
"Soldiers are also providing support to the Department of Public Health with drivers and couriers at thirteen of their eighteen regional health offices, logistics support at their warehouse, and reinforcement at test sites. The Guard is supporting Walmart’s mobile testing initiative in Richmond County today, and will support them in Milledgeville and Tifton in the coming days. Personnel are providing reinforcement at nine specimen collection sites in conjunction with Augusta University, covering Albany, Moultrie, Decatur, Forsyth, two sites in Atlanta, Kennesaw, Morrow, and Sparta.
"As I mentioned last week, the Guard has galvanized ten mobile strike teams for test specimen collection, focusing on nursing homes, first responders, law enforcement, and mental health facilities across Georgia. They are also supporting our partnership with Augusta University at their command center with forty-nine personnel. I applaud the brave men and women who have answered the call to service and who are fighting the virus with every fiber of their being.
"Speaking of local heroes, we have a great resource for frontline healthcare workers with the Battelle Decontamination System set up right here in Atlanta. The Battelle Decontamination System is a self-contained device that uses vapor hydrogen peroxide to decontaminate N95 masks. The device consists of eight 20-foot shipping containers, and starting today, it can decontaminate up to 80,000 N95 masks per day with each mask being able to be decontaminated up to 20 times. This system will give us the ability to recycle critical supplies, and it is currently available to all medical facilities, long-term care facilities, and first responders. I encourage healthcare facilities to reach out to GEMA and take advantage of this resource as they continue their work on the frontlines of our fight with COVID-19.
"Over the last several days, many have written about Georgia’s plan to slowly reopen the businesses shuttered by our state’s shelter in place order, and many more have written about the President’s insight and advice on our game plan. Rest assured, the President and I share a common goal and that’s to protect both the lives and livelihoods of Georgians and the American people. We had another great call today with the President, Vice President, members of the administration, and our nation’s governors. We appreciate the President’s leadership during these difficult times, and we are grateful for the resources provided as we work to keep Georgians safe and ensure a bright and prosperous future in every corner of our great state.
"While it’s easy to get discouraged or lost in the noise, I have found inspiration and encouragement from small business owners who were able to safely open their doors and serve customers in their city or town. I know this situation can test your patience and your faith, but please know, we stand with you.
"Over the weekend, I also heard from doctors in our state concerned about patient health and well-being. Given the shelter in place order and need to social distance, many with chronic diseases or medical needs have avoided the doctor’s office or the pharmacy. If you have a medical need, please take advantage of the telehealth opportunities that many doctors have embraced during this pandemic. At the very least, call your physician to check in and schedule your appointment. Make the necessary arrangements today to ensure a healthy tomorrow.
"I want to close today with a renewed call for unity. These are unprecedented times in our state and nation, but we are making great progress. We have accomplished much, but there’s still a long way to go.
"There are differing opinions on how best to tackle COVID-19; how and when we reopen parts of the economy; the path forward to ensure a safer, stronger, and more prosperous future for our state. But I can promise you this: there is more that unites us than divides us. We all want to protect our families and our neighbors. We all want to emerge from this pandemic safe and victorious.
"So please, stand with us in the days and weeks and months ahead. Encourage your loved ones to follow the Executive Orders and social distancing guidance. Find a way to support your local businesses, and take care of your neighbors who need help. Use social media to share important updates and highlight the good that’s going on around us.
"And I would ask all Georgians to do what I do every day. Pray for the state’s health leaders who are helping chart our course forward. Pray for those on the frontlines, and pray for your elected officials who are trying to do what’s right for the people they serve.
"I urge you to continue to follow our guidelines and take care of the most vulnerable. If we do, I am confident that together, we will defeat COVID-19 and our best days will remain ahead."