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

Kemp rejects statewide shutdown to contain coronavirus

Faced with looming shortages, Gov. Brian Kemp urged hospitals to cancel elective procedures to conserve life-saving supplies essential to combating the coronavirus pandemic. 

And he echoed an approach he’s emphasized all week by repeating that he has no immediate plans to mandate a statewide quarantine or impose restrictions, bars and other businesses. 

At a press conference from his office in the Capitol, Kemp said he’s listening to health experts who are “saying, ‘Do not do this at this time.’”

“There are no easy answers and the guidance continues to change,” said Kemp, adding that “we must remain dynamic and responsive to weather this storm.” 

The governor said he’s taken “immediate action” to coordinate deliveries of key medical supplies and that officials are assessing the state’s medical stockpile. But he didn’t provide any details on the remaining trove of supplies.  

“There’s no doubt, without a question, we’re going to need these resources in the days and weeks ahead, as the number of Georgia cases continues to rise,” he said, adding: “We are going down every nook and cranny to find resources.”

President Donald Trump earlier Thursday said the federal government is not a “shipping clerk” and that the onus is on governors to obtain the equipment to combat a pandemic that’s sickened at least 287 Georgians and killed 10.

Kemp also said he is considering suspending the state’s certificate of need law to make it easier for new healthcare facilities to open. And he said he’s weighing whether to give nurse practitioners freer rein to respond to the crisis. 

He spoke in a press briefing live-streamed on Facebook to limit exposure to the disease. In a usually cramped office, he was flanked by just two figures: His health commissioner and a sign language specialist.

Here’s some other elements of his briefing:

Restrictions on public gatherings

The pressure on Kemp to restrict gatherings increased on Thursday as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms ordered the closure of all restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses where people congregate within the city limits. 

Concerned about government “overreach,” the governor has resisted using his emergency powers to mandate similar closures across the state. That’s at odds with a growing number of other governors who have announced restrictions.

Kemp suggested his decision could soon shift. 

“I am however leaning on the advice of medical professionals and scientists, as well as urging local officials to do what is in the best interest of their communities, to keep communities safe and to stop the spread of the coronavirus,” he said. 

“We are all in this fight together, and together we will emerge stronger than ever.” 

Paul Beamon, vice president of emergency medical services at AmeriPro EMS, unpacks supplies bought from local stores at AmeriPro EMS in Riverdale on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. As Atlanta falls deeper into the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, medical professionals are having trouble finding enough supplies and equipment to treat patients and protect health care providers. Manufacturers in China and elsewhere say not enough products are being shipped over to the U.S. to handle the growing number of cases. As a greater sense of desperation takes hold, some medical professionals are using creative ways to find supplies, including purchasing masks from painting companies and going to Home Depot. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Testing

The governor emphasized his plan to ration tests to those most at risk of coronavirus infection, such as older residents, and those on the front lines of the emergency, such medical workers and first responders.

“The best way to serve the public is protect those who are protecting us,” he said, adding: “The more we test, the more we will find.”

Legislative shutdown

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the head of Georgia’s public health department, was asked why state officials urged that all 236 state lawmakers and dozens of others exposed by a state senator who tested positive for the disease should go into self-quarantine. 

“That recommendation was not any different than we could make to a church or a school,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do. We’re so concerned that we want to stop transmission wherever possible.”

Dobbins Air Reserve Base

There are still 209 cruise ship passengers at the Marietta facility awaiting transfer to their homes, said Kemp, who earlier requested the Trump administration to leave a medical center at the facility intact even after the passengers are removed to help treat metro Atlanta residents as the pandemic spreads.

Phoebe Putney Health System in Albany recently set up a tent for drive-thru testing for COVID-19 and its virus, the novel coronavirus. CONTRIBUTED BY PHOEBE PUTNEY HEALTH SYSTEM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dougherty County

The governor said he was “very concerned” about the growing number of coronavirus cases in southwest Georgia traced to two recent funerals. 

“This situation cannot be more serious,” he said. “Social distancing. Stay at home if you could have potentially attended one of those funeral services.”

State budget

Anticipating a deep hole in Georgia’s budget, the governor asked Trump to set aside significant funding to shore up state spending plans. State leaders quietly acknowledge the $27.5 billion spending play they just approved could be in ruins in months as tax revenue dries up. 

“Unlike the Recession, when things went down slowly, when states had time to prepare at the end of the year, we’re all facing drastic revenue drops,” Kemp told Trump at a teleconference. “The idea of a block grant to the states to help fill revenue shortfalls would be something I’d like for you to consider.”

The president was non-committal, saying he’ll “consider everything you said.”

Tip line

The governor urged Georgians to call a tip line at 1-844-442-2681 to share public health information and connect with medical professionals. He said the line receives roughly 800 calls a day. 

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