Kemp: More testing options for coronavirus available in Georgia

FILE: Gov. Brian Kemp. (PHOTO: REBECCA WRIGHT / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
FILE: Gov. Brian Kemp. (PHOTO: REBECCA WRIGHT / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday that Georgia’s state lab will soon start testing for cases of possible coronavirus, giving the state another option to screen potential illnesses rather than rely on federal officials.

The governor said kits have been distributed to the state lab, which began processing tests on Thursday. The state was earlier relying on the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to screen potential cases.

And repeating his earlier calls, Kemp urged residents to keep calm about the illness. A “small number” of people have been tested, but no new cases have been reported, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, head of the state’s public health department.

The governor announced earlier this week that two people in Fulton County are the first in Georgia to test positive for the illness. The two showed symptoms of the illness shortly after one of the people returned to Georgia from a trip to the northern Italian city of Milan, officials said.

“This is still no time for Georgians to panic,” said Kemp, who said he’s been in frequent communication with Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the federal coronavirus response.

He urged Georgians to resist buying specialized masks and to be “very smart” about what they’re doing. He also called on residents to heed federal guidelines urging travelers not to visit countries on the restricted list.

So far, 11 deaths in the U.S. have been linked to the virus and nearly 200 confirmed cases in 18 states across the nation. Several states have declared emergencies, including California, though Georgia has not done so yet.

The illness, known as COVID-19, is characterized by fever and coughing and, sometimes, pneumonia and shortness of breath. Around the world, there were about 98,000 cases and more than 3,300 deaths from the virus, most of them in China.

But it continues to spread globally, forcing flights to cancel, school districts to shut down and lives turned upside down.

In Georgia, Kemp named a task force to identify the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But he has said it's too early to take additional steps, such as encouraging state employees to work from home.

Kemp also said Thursday he doesn’t yet plan to ask state lawmakers for more funding or specific legislation to respond to the illness.

On the federal level, President Donald Trump is soon expected to approve an $8.3 billion package of emergency aid. And he's set to visit the the CDC on Friday as he tries to calm growing fears about the outbreak.

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