How White House virus recommendations square with Georgia’s policies

State health department also releases new data on cases, hot spots and outbreaks.

Editor’s note: Updated with Gov. Brian Kemp’s new executive order and clarifies information on nursing homes.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force last week produced a report that said Georgia wasn’t doing enough the curb the spread of COVID-19, but that report was not made public until Thursday when it was published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The document, which scrutinized data from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, said that though new case counts were slightly down compared to the week before, Georgia still was experiencing “widespread and expanding community viral spread.” And the state’s rate of case increase of 213 per 100,000 that week remained about twice the national average.

The task force continues to place Georgia in the “red zone,” meaning weekly reported cases are above 100 per 100,000 people and a positive test result greater than 10% for the population. 109 counties and 34 metro areas in Georgia — including Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Savannah and Valdosta — meet that definition.

The task force “strongly recommends” Georgia adopt a statewide mandate that citizens wear masks, and said businesses, such as nightclubs, bars and gyms, currently open with some restrictions in Georgia, should be closed in the highest risk counties, the report said.

“Current mitigation efforts are not having a sufficient impact,” the report said.

Some of the recommendations are not new, and were included in a July 26 report obtained by the New York Times. But the urgency of the language in the report was new.

Below are some of the top recommendations from the Aug. 9 report and how Georgia’s current policies do or don’t align:

No. 1, Improvements at long-term care homes: Ensure access to rapid testing at nursing homes, assisted living and long-term care homes. Ensure universal social distancing and face mask use at facilities. Conduct infection control surveys at nursing homes with more than three cases in three weeks. This guidance is more detailed than past guidance from the White House task force.

Georgia’s policy: All facilities do not have access to rapid testing. Social distancing is required of all Georgians but not enforced; mask use is required. Georgia was among the last states to complete required infection control surveys by July 31. The state Department of Community Health said it is conducting surveys that will meet or exceed this standard for nursing homes.

When asked what the state was doing to meet White House recommendations, Cody Hall, a Kemp spokesman, said that on top of federal supplies provided to nursing homes to conduct rapid testing, “local and district public health offices continue to partner with long-term care facilities in their communities to provide testing. Our current executive order also provides for enhanced protections for these facilities and both DCH and CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) have provided detailed guidance to facilities on how best to stop the spread of COVID-19.”



Hall said that the state has provided fogging machines and other infection control supplies for the long-term care centers that want to continue the infection control mission that had been performed by the Georgia National Guard in the early days of the pandemic.

And House Bill 987, a bill that was backed and signed by the governor, Hall said, “implemented further oversight measures and required baseline testing for long-term care facilities.”

Hall said new guidance in collaboration with industry, the state and federal governments, is pending.

No. 2, Mask mandate: “Current mitigation efforts are not having a sufficient impact and (we) would strongly recommend a statewide mask mandate.”

This language was stronger than in the prior White House report from July 26, which recommended that officials in Georgia “mandate use of masks in all current and evolving hot spots — optimally a statewide mandate.”

Georgia’s policy: Though Kemp has encouraged Georgians to wear masks, Georgia is one of 16 states without some form of statewide mask mandate. Kemp has previously said he believes a statewide requirement is unnecessary and unenforceable.

Kemp’s emergency order, which expires on Saturday night, explicitly bars cities from enacting mask mandates or enacting any measures stricter or less restrictive than his.

On Thursday, Kemp withdrew that a lawsuit challenging the city of Atlanta’s mask mandate and business restrictions, but officials said he planned a new order by Saturday that would specify that local governments can’t order private businesses to require masks.

That changed on Friday when, in a reversal, Kemp’s office said the governor will sign a new order allowing local governments to enforce mask mandates on government property if those localities meet certain health metrics. The requirement also could apply to businesses, if the businesses consent. Authorities would also have to issue at least one warning before writing a citation, Kemp’s office said.

“Of most importance, this order will contain very strong protections for business owners and private property,” said Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce.

“Specifically for businesses, the owner will still be able to decide whether to have a face covering requirement or not. If the owner decides to have a face covering requirement, the owner can decide who enforces it.”

No. 3, Closing certain venues: Close bars, nightclubs, entertainment venues and other establishments where social distancing cannot occur in red zone counties.

Georgia’s policy: Each of these businesses can operate but with some restrictions. Venues must ensure six feet of social distancing. Bars can have 35% of fire safety capacity or 50 people, whichever is greater.

No. 4, Reduce indoor dining: Limit indoor dining to under 25% occupancy; expand outdoor dining.

Georgia’s policy: The state no longer requires an occupancy limit other than diners must be six feet apart.

No. 5, Smaller crowds: Limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

Georgia’s policy: For now, Georgia allows social gatherings of up to 50 people, provided there is social distancing.

The White House task force also recommendations for the state to scale up testing and contact tracing.

On Friday, Kemp’s office and Georgia DPH released some new data showing some improving trends, including slight reductions in weekly case counts. Test positivity rates are declining, but experts say Georgia still isn’t testing enough. The number of people currently hospitalized also has declined since a peak on July 30.

The report noted slowing new case rates in metro Atlanta, though it also warned of hot spots in rural areas of central, eastern and southern Georgia.

The report for the first time highlighted the numbers of specific outbreaks in certain settings.

From Aug. 6 through Wednesday, the state said it identified 110 outbreaks, including in long-term care facilities (23), schools and school athletics teams (14), offices and workplaces (14), manufacturing facilities (13), prisons and jails (13), churches (8) and restaurants (4).

The state also documented outbreaks in hospitals and outpatient medical facilities, day care facilities and grocery stores. None of the sites were identified, and DPH declined a request to release them.

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.

About the Author