AJC Interview: Kemp urges calm amid ‘what-ifs’ about coronavirus

Gov. Brian Kemp confirmed at a late-night news conference Monday that there were two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Fulton County.

Gov. Brian Kemp confirmed at a late-night news conference Monday that there were two confirmed cases of coronavirus in Fulton County.

A day after Gov. Brian Kemp disclosed Georgia had two cases of coronavirus, he spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the "what-ifs" driving his administration's approach to the illness and his advice to anxious residents.

The interview on Tuesday came shortly after he was briefed by Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the commissioner of Georgia’s public health department, with an update about the state’s response to coronavirus.

You just got off the phone with Dr. Toomey – what’s the latest?

“I had a quick update with Dr. Toomey. She’s been very busy getting a lot of calls from last night. They’re taking care of the public face of things. She’s briefed the lieutenant governor and the speaker. They’re trying to get information to sheriffs, educators, stakeholders. Things are going well for the two folks who tested positive last night. They remain in home monitoring ...

“We want to urge the public to remain calm. Everyone remains at a low risk, as we said last night. And make sure to rely on information coming out of the governor’s office, the department of public health and the CDC. There’s a lot of information flying out there, and some of it is not accurate.”

What contingency plans are you developing for state officials? 

“We’re thinking about all sorts of plans ... The risk remains low and we feel like we have a handle on the situation. If that changes, we’re going to be transparent with people and let them know. But being forward we’re planning for all sorts of scenarios. I don’t say that to alarm people. We planned for last night for weeks in advance. ... We’ve got the task force working on that. We’re working on it all.”


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What message do you have for anxious Georgians?

“They don’t need to feel like they need to make a run on anything. They need to make sure they have normal supplies at their homes, maybe a little extra, but don’t feel like you have to stock up for three months. Be smart – if you’ve been to Italy, South Korea, China, you may be more susceptible to this. Call your doctor and if you’re not feeling good, stay at home. Be really smart about this. Don’t go to work and don’t send your kids to school if you’re not feeling well. We just want people to remain calm right now.”

What plans are in place to accommodate a surge of patients if necessary?

“I wouldn’t want to go into specifics on that. I don’t want to get people alarmed. But we’re thinking about the what-ifs in many different scenarios. And hopefully we never get to them.”

Is there any additional precautions you are personally taking?  

“I’m doing what Dr. Toomey told me as well [by frequently washing his hands and consulting physicians if he feels ill] ... I spent an hour taking pictures with different individuals today, and I shook a lot of hands and gave a lot of hugs but I was also washing up afterwards. I’m not changing my daily routines now, but I’ll be transparent if that changes.”

What’s your mindset going into this, since it could wind up dominating the next few weeks of discussion?

“Methodically and systematically, we’re grinding it out. I’ve been through things like this before, that have lasted for months. People need to know we have a great and experienced team developing our response.”