Kemp, Toomey urge virus tests following holiday weekend

‘Be part of the solution and not the problem,’ Kemp tells Georgians.

Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s top doctor on Thursday urged all Georgians, especially those who participated in large Labor Day weekend gatherings, to get tested for the coronavirus.

The Thursday afternoon press release follows efforts by Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s commissioner of public health, to barnstorm the state last week in advance of the holiday weekend.

State officials urged Georgians to avoid large gatherings over the holiday weekend and reminded residents to keep their distance from others, wear masks and wash hands to help reduce the risk of another surge in cases like what was seen in the weeks after Memorial Day weekend and stretched into July.

“To prevent increased community spread following the holiday weekend, we are asking all Georgians who participated in gatherings, were not able to socially distance, or who may have been exposed to the virus to schedule a COVID-19 test,” Kemp said in a news release. “To stop the spread of COVID-19, Georgians must be part of the solution and not the problem, as we have said from the beginning.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and local health departments operate more than 180 testing sites around the state. To schedule a test, Georgians can visit the DPH website or go to DoINeedACOVID19Test.com.

Kemp and Toomey also recorded videos before the holiday asking Georgians to do “Four Things for Fall,” which includes the use of face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and following public health guidelines and Kemp’s emergency orders. Kemp’s order, among other things, caps gatherings at fewer than 50.

Georgia has been on a downward trajectory in new cases of the virus for the past seven weeks after peaking in July. As cases have declined, test demand has also dipped. But test appointments are more widely available and state and local health departments have reported results are returned typically in a few days, a significant improvement over wait times during the summer surge.

“Testing is a key component in our fight to stop COVID-19,” Toomey said in the release. “Governor Kemp and I are asking all Georgians who may be at risk of exposure to the virus after Labor Day to schedule a test at one of our testing sites throughout the state. I would also recommend that all Georgians go ahead and schedule a flu shot. These two steps can mitigate community spread and keep Georgians healthy as we continue on a positive trajectory with the virus.”

A White House Coronavirus Task Force report dated Sept. 6 ranked Georgia 12th in new cases for the seven days that ended on the previous Friday. Georgia had ranked first in the nation in new cases in the White House task force assessment dated Aug. 16.

Though numbers have improved in recent weeks, the seven-day rolling average of net new cases on Thursday was 1,691, or nearly three times higher than the rate of June 1, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

On Thursday, Georgia reported 1,836 net new cases of the virus and 76 net new deaths. So far this year, the state has reported nearly 290,000 cases and more than 6,200 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Georgia reported a rate of 132 cases per 100,000 people in the week that ended Friday, about 50% higher than the national average.

The latest White House report raised alarm about spread on college campuses. Athens-Clarke County and Bulloch County have two of the highest rates of recent case growth in Georgia following outbreaks among students at the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University.

“Georgia is making progress and, to sustain the gains, should continue the strong mitigation efforts statewide and strengthen mitigation efforts in university towns to decrease spread from universities to the local community,” the White House report said. “Consider a further reduction in hours and occupancy limits in bars and restaurants in university counties and anywhere university and college students gather if cases begin to rise.”

The task force also urges limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people.

The report urged the state to increase testing, contact tracing efforts and isolation of infected and exposed persons on campuses “to prevent spread from students to local communities and hometowns.”

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