Kemp orders most state employees to work from home amid coronavirus outbreak

Gov. Brian Kemp ordered thousands of state employees to work from home as officials scrambled to address the spread of coronavirus.

Gov. Brian Kemp ordered thousands of state employees to work from home as officials scrambled to address the spread of coronavirus, which has sickened dozens in the state and claimed its first victim in Georgia.

The governor also issued a “call to action” to schools and day care centers that he said gave them clearance to shut down if local administrators agree it’s necessary, though he cautioned he was not mandating any closures.

He also said he wasn’t shutting down the state Capitol and didn’t declare a state of emergency, even as some Democrats and political organizations urge him to do so.

Instead, he expanded the scope of the state’s coronavirus task force and created a new state panel that would help officials address the state’s logistics network and grapple with the economic fallout of the disease.

“I would tell Georgians out there that I’m not unilaterally making these decisions. I’m conferring with the experts,” Kemp said. “You have a lot of experts that are really smart following this issue, and we’ll continue to follow the facts.”

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

He also suspended non-essential travel for state workers, and urged elderly residents and people with weakened immune systems to avoid large crowds where they could contract the disease caused by coronavirus.

“We cannot be too cautious in this area,” Kemp said at a press conference, adding that he’s also told his mother to do the same.

March12, 2020 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp speaks as other officials standing behind during a press conference to provide an update on the state's efforts regarding COVID-19, after reporting the first death in Georgia related to coronavirus, at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, March 11, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
March12, 2020 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp speaks as other officials standing behind during a press conference to provide an update on the state's efforts regarding COVID-19, after reporting the first death in Georgia related to coronavirus, at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, March 11, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“I hope this thing is overblown, but if it’s not, we’ve got to do everything we can to protect our elderly loved ones and those who are especially at risk from dying from this disease.”

A new phase

Authorities earlier confirmed the state's first coronavirus-related death since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has upended everyday life, forced the cancellation of sporting events and triggered an economic downturn.

Kemp's office said the victim was a 67-year-old male who was hospitalized at Wellstar Kennestone. State officials said the victim, who tested positive for the COVID-19 illness on March 7, also had "underlying medical conditions."

“I know the medical professionals on site did everything that they could, and I greatly appreciate their efforts,” said Kemp, who urged calm. “We are in this fight together.”

He was joined at the press conference by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who invoked advice from her grandmother: “You don’t worry until you have to.”

In all, Georgia has 12 confirmed cases of the disease and 19 presumed positive cases awaiting more testing across a dozen counties in Georgia. Most of the cases are in metro Atlanta, though several have been reported in rural areas.

Kemp said three of the presumed positive cases in Bartow County were linked to the same church congregation, though state officials didn’t immediately provide more details.

Kemp has previously resisted calling for a state of emergency, even as dozens of other states have taken the same step, saying that health officials have not encouraged the step.

The governor’s announcement came a day after President Donald Trump announced “strong but necessary” steps to keep new cases of the coronavirus from entering the U.S. by suspending most travel from Europe for 30 days.

Stocks took a nosedive early Thursday as jittery investors rejected Trump’s efforts to contain the outbreak. And Vice President Mike Pence warned of “thousands of more cases of coronavirus.”

More: ‘It’s surreal.’ Coronavirus casts a pall on Georgia politics

The spread of the disease has fast upended Georgia politics.

Candidates have canceled events, lawmakers suspended the legislative session and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins had to “self-quarantine” after he was exposed to someone with the virus at a conservative conference.

And the Democratic Party of Georgia canceled a gala that was scheduled to feature former Vice President Joe Biden just days before the state’s March 24 primary.

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