Gov. Brian Kemp warns that the worst of the coronavirus in Georgia is still at least two weeks away, as officials continue to ratchet up testing and expand medical capacity across the state.
"I will tell you we are seeing some good signs, which makes me just want to urge my fellow Georgians to hunker down even more," he said. "But we do know we've got to do this: We have got to have enough hospital beds when we reach our peak, we've got to do more testing, and we've got to continue to focus on our long-term care facilities."
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14, there are at least 14,000 reported COVID-19 cases in Georgia, and about 20% of those have resulted in hospitalizations. At least 524 people, or 3.6% of those people with confirmed cases, have died.
Here is the latest coronavirus news from Georgia for Tuesday, April 14, 2020.
Georgia Expands COVID-19 Testing Criteria, Hospital Capacity
Kemp said in a Monday press conference Georgia will expand COVID-19 testing sites and revise the criteria for who can get tested as the state enters its second full week under a stay-at-home order.
The governor called Georgia's lag in testing numbers unacceptable.
"Despite our partnerships and undeniable progress, our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag," he said. "We need to be firing on all cylinders to prepare for the days and weeks ahead."
As of noon Monday, only 58,000 or so COVID-19 tests had been processed in a state of about 10 million people.
Georgia’s peak will likely be later
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on Monday updated its projection to show Georgia's peak hospital use will be May 1 and peak deaths in Georgia will be May 3, with a shortage of ICU beds coming by the end of the week.
But Kemp said across the state, the hospital infrastructure is not yet full, and over the weekend his office announced a 200-bed surge capacity hospital is being constructed at the Georgia World Congress Center.
"As of today, we have 2,617 emergency room beds, 929 critical care beds, and nearly 6,000 general inpatient beds available statewide," he said. "By the end of this week, we hope to provide this bed capacity update daily to the public."
Dearth of data
That new data point about hospital capacity underscores just how little we know about the virus’ spread, who is impacted the most and how different parts of the state are responding.
While some hospitals (like Phoebe Putney in Albany) are proactively forthcoming with statistics on cases and deaths, others have been radio silent.
The Georgia Department of Public Health is missing racial demographic data for about half of the state's 13,300 positive cases, and just recently added graphs and charts about daily case rates. At least 239 of the 464 reported deaths are black Georgians.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state's public health commissioner, said her department was focused on making sure that information proactively comes in during future tests.
"Right now our priority is not retrospective but prospective, ensuring that we proactively test to ensure we get fully filled out demographic information," she said. "I think for our staff to go back and find 4,000 individuals and ask them that information is less valuable now."
Georgia's public health emergency runs through May 13 at the moment, and a belated stay-at-home order goes through April 30. While the governor would not speculate about future decisions to extend these orders or when to re-open the state, he said there was hope in recent numbers.
Kemp also announced an executive order suspending enforcement of the state's anti-mask law, originally designed to prevent Ku Klux Klan members from gathering in public, as a way to ensure people can comply with public health recommendations to cover their face in public without fear of prosecution.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cloth face masks for people who have to go out in public.
“It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus. CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.”
Worker at governor's mansion tests positive
A worker at the governor’s mansion in Buckhead recently tested positive for COVID-19, which sent everyone who had contact with the staffer into quarantine, the AJC reports. That staffer had no contact with Kemp or his family.
UPDATED MAP: Track Coronavirus By Population Across Georgia
Gwinnett, Cobb counties shift to four-day school weeks
In two metro Atlanta school districts, students will finish the academic year with four days of online learning. Classes will be held Monday through Thursday with Fridays used as a catch-up day in Cobb and Gwinnett schools. The school year is scheduled to end May 20.
IRS launches new app for stimulus money
The IRS will launch an app this week for people to connect with and track their stimulus payments from the $2.2 trillion deal signed by President Donald Trump late last month, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said Friday.
The Georgia Department of Labor will also begin distributing federal unemployment funds according to the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security).
A weekly $600 supplement will be sent to any individual eligible for any portion of the Unemployment Compensation programs – state and federal. The GDOL will begin sending this additional payment to those currently receiving state unemployment benefits beginning next week. This supplement will be an additional payment to regular weekly state unemployment benefits and will include all eligible weeks beginning with the week ending April 4.
The supplement amount is contingent upon any deductions required by the state or federal government.
Unemployment claims soar
Nearly 400,000 unemployment claims were processed from March 29 to April 4 as the economic slowdown seen elsewhere in the U.S. begins to hit Georgia.
That number of claims tripled from the previous week, which saw 133,820 claims processed, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.
“Thanks to the governor and his support of this agency, we have been able to automate much of this process by requiring employers to file on behalf of their employees, making this process much easier for Georgians to receive benefits.”
During the worst year of the Great Recession, the DOL processed about a million claims in the entire year. In the last two weeks, more than half a million have been processed.
A majority of the claims came from those in the hospitality and food service industry.
Nationwide, more than 17 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the last three weeks.
Primary election delayed to June 9
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger postponed Georgia’s presidential primary and general primary election to June 9, delaying the vote by three weeks amid concerns over safety at the polls. Saturday, Kemp signed an executive order calling for a special election to replace the late state Sen. Jack Hill in Senate District 4.
The extension of Georgia’s public health emergency to May 13 gave him the legal authority to move the vote, as well as several reports of challenges local officials were facing trying to prepare for an election in a pandemic.
A GPB News/Georgia News Lab survey of more than 80 of the state’s election directors last week found them grappling with a potential shortage of poll workers, voting location closures and difficulty implementing social distancing at the polls.
“Looking at the situation on the ground, county elections officials were still having major issues with the ability to staff their precincts with poll workers, and we felt that moving out the elections three weeks will give them additional time,” Raffensperger said. “We understand it will still be a challenge, but it’s something that’s a hard and fast date.”
Deadlines for an election cycle run several months, so June 9 is the latest date the primary can be held because of the Nov. 3, 2020 general election, he said.