“Hunker down, stay vigilant” Kemp declares ahead of Thanksgiving

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ATLANTA, Ga – Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey delivered a COVID-19 update and urge safety as the state prepares for Thanksgiving.

“We’ve seen a rise of Georgia cases in recent weeks. In light of that with not only Thanksgiving, but Christmas, Hannukah, the New Year, and other holiday celebrations right around the corner, we’re asking all Georgian’s to continue to do a few simple things,” Kemp said.

The four asks are:

  • Wear a mask
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash your hands
  • Follow the guidance of state health officials

The unofficial fifth point is to get a flu shot to prevent a twindemic of COVID-19 and influenza.

Governor Kemp advises Georgians to limit holiday gatherings to only a few people in the same household or have a virtual event.  Also, if weather permits to gather outside. Travelers should try to socially distance from others. He added to minimize the risk of exposure to family members who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“Our fight for COVID-19 has uprooted many of the norms that we’re used to, especially during the holidays. I know people are frustrated and ready to return to normal. I am as well, but we cannot grow weary. We have to keep our foot on the gas in this fight and as we celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, I think we have plenty to be thankful for,” the governor declared.

Kemp took a moment to thank hard-working Georgians, frontline workers, and law enforcement officials.

Department of Public Health Director Kathleen Toomey

“We’ve seen every time we have a holiday that our numbers increase,” Toomey explained. “Right now, in Georgia, we are still lower than in other states, but we’ve seen a steady uptick in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. We can stop that if everyone follows those guidelines.”

Toomey expanded that taking a COVID-19 test ahead of the holiday doesn’t mean someone won’t contract the virus a few days later. She asked to try and avoid family members who don’t live in the same household. For Georgians who do gather, socially distance, wear a mask, separate utensils, and if possible, eat outdoors.

Currently, Georgia still has between 45 days and two months of frontline PPE supplies. The state has also shipped eight million masks, over 287,000 gallons of sanitizing gel, 19,500 hand sanitization stations, and 52,000 face shields to schools.

Hospital and long-term care facility staffing are a top priority for the Kemp administration, which plans to allocate $25 million to staff augmentation.

Toomey and Insurance Commissioner John King’s teams are working together to create a comprehensive vaccine distribution plan.

“I want to take a minute to commend the Trump administration and Operation Warp Speed on really incredible work on the vaccine,” Kemp stated. “As soon as that supply is ready to be shipped, the state will be ready to deploy a safe, effective vaccine.”

More updates on the vaccine plan will be released in the future.

Kemp easing restrictions and opening some businesses

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ATLANTA, Ga – In a 4 p.m. press conference Gov. Brian Kemp outlined a plan to reopen the Georgia economy in accordance with Phase One of President Trump’s plan.

Starting on Friday, April 24, gyms, fitness centers, hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlors, estheticians, their respective schools, bowling alleys, and massage therapists can open back up. However, they must follow social distancing guidelines and sanitation policies.

“Unlike other businesses, these entities have been unable to manage inventory, deal with payroll, and take care of administrative items while we shelter in place. This measure allows them to undertake baseline operations that most other businesses in the state have maintained since I issued the shelter-in-place order,” stated Kemp.

On Monday, April 27, restaurants can reopen their in-dining services as long as social distance and sanitation protocols are in place.

Entertainment businesses like event venues and bars are still closed until data supports reopening.

Social distancing is still in place across Georgia and the Shelter in Place order is in effect until April 30.

“Do what you can to help those in need. For places of worship, holding in-person services is allowed, but under Phase One guidelines, it must be done in accordance with strict social distancing protocols, Kemp added. “I urge faith leaders to continue to help us in this effort and keep their congregations safe by heeding the advice of public health officials. Of course, online, call-in, or drive-in services remain good options for religious institutions.”

The governor stressed businesses that are being allowed to open back up to practice good common sense or he will take necessary steps. He added that cases will probably continue to go up, but the state is better equipped to combat the virus with more hospital beds and contact tracing.

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey added that the number of COVID-19 cases in Georgia has plateaued and now in decline. She said that they are following the gating data standards as set by Dr. Deborah Birx and the COVID-19 task force.

Bar graph from DPH demonstrating daily change in confirmed cases.

Toomey said that Georgia will meet the two-week decline in cases by the time the April 30 shelter in place order ends. According to her, the death rate in Georgia has dramatically fallen. Toomey said this is due to more widespread testing and identifying cases earlier.

It should be noted that last week Georgia still had multiple days of over 700 new cases added during the daily reports. The highest confirmed cases day was on April 6, 2020. The highest death day was also on April 6 with 40 deaths recorded by DPH.

However, it’s been previously reported that DPH and associated labs have a backlog of tests to process. These numbers are still subject to change. More testing facilities are opening across the state, including Gilmer and Towns.

Also, several people who are either asymptomatic or demonstrating only minor symptoms are being tested for COVID-19, so these numbers could be much larger. Please continue to follow social distancing for the time being.

Graph depicting daily number of COVID-19 deaths.

Telemedicine Option

From Kemp’s press conference:

“As many of you know, Augusta University Health launched a telemedicine app as part of their comprehensive plan to screen, test, and treat Georgia patients through an algorithm designed by experts at the Medical College of Georgia. This app has enhanced public health while reducing exposure for our doctors, nurses, and medical staff. We are encouraging symptomatic Georgians to download the app this week and begin the screening process. Georgians can access the app by visiting AugustaHealth.org or downloading AU Health ExpressCare on your smartphone. You can also call (706) 721-1852. This free app is user-friendly, and through this app, physicians and advanced practice providers from Augusta University Health and the Medical College of Georgia are available to users twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you begin to display symptoms consistent with COVID-19 – day or night – you can log onto AU Health’s telemedicine app or call to get screened by a clinician. 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. Your healthcare information will be securely transmitted to your designated testing site.

“This streamlined process reduces stress on both the patient and testing site workers. Once you arrive for your appointment, you will provide a specimen for testing. From there, we will leverage the power of several key academic institutions in the state to process tests. These include Augusta University, Emory 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. The clinician will assist you with enrolling in a self-reporting app by Google named MTX where – with patient consent – the Department of Public Health can use enhanced contact monitoring and tracing.”

Here’s a link to Fetch Your News’ daily COVID-19 updates.

Posted by Governor Brian Kemp on Monday, April 20, 2020

Georgia DPH adjusts COVID-19 models to include asymptomatic transmission

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BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – As of April 1, Georgia had 4,748 cases and 20,328 completed COVID-19 tests, but Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has only tested symptomatic and high-risk patients. As a result, some cases have gone undiagnosed across Georgia.

Currently, DPH is following CDC guidelines, which still states online that not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. Most people who contract the virus will recover and can care for themselves at home. CDC gave healthcare workers four priority categories to help decide who receives tests.

Asymptomatic individuals were ranked last, and those exhibiting mild symptoms or subjected to potential community spread should only be tested if resources are available.

White County Public Safety Director David Murphy went on record about the issue.

“Some people take care of themselves at home and never go to a doctor, especially those who have minor symptoms,” he explained. Murphy added that White County first responders have encountered a dozen or more patients with coronavirus symptoms in the last two weeks.

DPH guidance for healthcare facilities when it comes to testing lower priority potential cases is as follows:

Patients with mild illness who do not require medical care or who are not a DIRECT contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case (meaning the person has NOT been within 6 feet of a confirmed case for greater than 10 minutes, will not meet criteria to be tested at GPHL but can be tested at commercial labs—see below:

These patients should self-isolate at home until symptoms resolve. If respiratory symptoms worsen, they may need to be re-evaluated. Guidance for safe home care can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/guidance-homecare.html.

If you want to test these patients for COVID-19, commercial laboratory testing is the best option. Commercial laboratories are expected to conduct a substantial number of COVID-19 tests going forward. Currently, the primary source of testing is LabCorp, but we expect other laboratories will be testing in the near future as well, including Quest and ARUP. Neither LabCorp nor Quest will collect specimens at their facilities. Providers should contact LabCorp or Quest regarding supplies needed for testing.

DPH Commissioner Kathleen Toomey addressed that asymptomatic individuals in Georgia aren’t being tested but could be transmitting the virus to numerous Georgians. The state and DPH now believe the time is now appropriate to take “very aggressive measures.”

“We have not been testing everybody. We have only been testing those who have symptoms and those who are the most ill. And now, we recognize a game-changer, in how our strategy to fight COVID has unfolded. We realize now that individuals may be spreading the virus and not even realize they have an infection. As many as 1 in 4 people with coronavirus don’t realize they have the infection because they have no symptoms whatsoever,” explained Toomey.

“Finding out that this virus is now transmitting before they see signs,” remarked Gov. Brian Kemp. “Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad.”

Kemp is expected to sign a shelter in place order on Thursday, April 2 to prevent people from ignoring self-quarantine recommendations. The details on the order are yet to be released.

Toomey further voiced that they knew asymptomatic community spread was possible due to the cruise ship cases. As of March 4, the CDC website also stated that asymptomatic spread is possible, but not as common as among individuals who are visibly sick.

Until the past 24-hours, all the DPH models relied on data solely from patients with symptoms.

“I think it’s a combination of recognizing not only that there are probably a large number of people out there who are infected who are asymptomatic, who never would have been recognized under our old models, but also seeing the community transmission that we’re seeing and now is the time to stop that transmission before the hospitals are overrun,” said Toomey.

How can Georgians prevent exposure/slow the spread?

Follow the CDC guidelines:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds – wash often
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces
  • Avoid social contact and stay home
  • Social distance if in public – stay six feet apart from each other
  • Avoid touching the face – mouth, nose, eyes
  • If sick, stay home
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw it away
  • Wear a facemask if sick

By following these guidelines and Kemp’s shelter-in-place order, Georgian’s should be able to flatten the curve and hopefully protect themselves and loved ones.

Posted by Governor Brian Kemp on Wednesday, April 1, 2020

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