Here is a look at major COVID-19 developments in Georgia over the last week:
Kemp extends statewide lockdown to April 30
With dozens dying in senior care homes, on Wednesday Kemp ordered Georgia’s 10.6 million residents to stay home through the end of the month. His previous order lasted only to April 13.
Calling the disease “the evil virus,” the governor said during a news conference that his shelter-at-home mandate may be starting to curb the spread.
“We’re encouraged,” he said. “I don’t want to tell people that … I don’t want Georgians to take their foot off the gas.”
Kemp was among the last governors to mandate social distancing. When he acted, his executive order wiped out stricter rules already imposed by many local governments, including beach closures. Glynn County Commission Chairman Mike Browning, a Republican, was quoted as saying, "There is no leadership in this state."
But Kemp has stood firm, defending his decision to reopen beaches, state parks, golf courses and other outdoor venues. They provide needed recreation outlets to Georgians otherwise stuck in their homes, he said. He has stopped short of imposing restrictions on religious services, instead requiring social distancing at houses of worship. On Friday, he pleaded with Georgians not to attend churches in person on Easter Sunday.
The governor did impose stricter rules on senior care homes as officials acknowledged for the first time that COVID-19 has killed at least 81 residents of those facilities. He barred visitors and nonessential workers from entering nursing homes, told the facilities to cancel group activities and meals, and ordered the quarantining of any nursing home worker who tests positive for the virus.
The state Department of Public Health declined to identify facilities where residents have died.
» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Outbreak apparently taking heavier toll on blacks
» MORE: Who to call, where to go with COVID-19 questions in Georgia
Primary election pushed back again
Faced with the daunting task of keeping voters safe and precincts open during a pandemic, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger opted to further postpone Georgia’s primary. Voting that was originally scheduled for March 24 and then for May 19 now is supposed to take place on June 9.
Changing the election date could help avoid the possibility of super-spreader events at precincts — a prospect feared in Wisconsin after voters went to the polls there Tuesday. Georgia is one of 16 states that have either delayed presidential primaries or switched to voting by mail with extended deadlines.
Raffensperger faced criticism from both parties for how he handled the situation. Democrats want him to go further to encourage voting by mail.
“Delaying Georgia’s election does not ensure either public safety or Georgians’ right to vote,” said Saira Draper of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “That means providing paid postage, counting all ballots postmarked by election day, and mailing vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters, not just some.”
State quietly prepares to turn convention centers into hospitals
Racing to add more hospital beds ahead of the expected surge in coronavirus cases, state officials are making plans to establish three large emergency hospitals across Georgia, including one at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show the sprawling downtown Atlanta facility is being scouted as a potential site, along with the Savannah Convention Center and an unspecified location in Macon.
Details remain murky, but the Georgia World Congress Center confirmed that health-care officials have scouted the facility as a potential site.
“GWCC has been assessed as a short-term treatment facility. At this time, we have not been mobilized,” said Holly Richmond, a spokeswoman for the convention center. “We are prepared and ready to assist when called upon.”
Unemployment claims triple in one week
The Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday it processed 390,132 claims for unemployment benefits during the week ending April 4 – handling more claims in seven days than during all of last year. The pain was deepest in the hospitality and food services industries.
“This is an unprecedented economic catastrophe,” said Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, during a conference call with reporters Thursday. “More than one in 10 American employees has applied for unemployment during the past three weeks.”
A week earlier, Georgia’s labor department reported processing 133,820 applications for jobless benefits — already roughly three times higher than the biggest weekly tally during the last economic downturn.
At the peak of job losses after the Great Recession, after several years of layoffs, nearly 500,000 Georgians were unemployed. But in just the past three weeks, 536,092 jobless Georgians have been processed.
Bar owner pulls nearly $4K in cash off the walls, hands it to staff
Jennifer Knox, owner of The Sand Bar in Tybee Island, pulled down $3,714 in cash that lined the walls of her establishment so she could give it to her struggling service workers.
Mostly $1 bills, the money came from the bar’s patrons over the past 15 years, most of whom were vacationers from out of town. To leave their mark at the establishment, they would scrawl their names on the bills, which were then stapled onto the bar’s wood-paneled walls and ceiling.
Knox told CNN it took five volunteers more than three days to carefully remove the weathered cash. Then it took her more than a week to clean off the bills and count the money.
“We were sitting there, doors locked, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh! There’s money on the walls, and we have time on our hands,’” she told CNN. “‘We gotta get this money down.’”
After hearing of her good deed, several regulars also chipped in, and Knox wound up collecting more than $4,100. Two musicians and four bartenders were given $600 each, she told CNN.
“I can’t just sit here and do nothing,” Knox said. “I’ll do what I can for my people.”