Georgia Coronavirus Updates: Statewide Social Distancing While Atlanta Stays Home
Gov. Brian Kemp is ordering “medically fragile” residents to stay at home while making everyone else keep their distance, but concerns about coronavirus has the city of Atlanta and others taking stronger action.
As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, there are 1,097 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in more than half of Georgia’s 159 counties with 38 reported deaths. About 5,500 tests have been performed by state and commercial labs. The state also says 361 people are hospitalized, a newly-reported measure of the virus' severity.
Here is the latest coronavirus news from Georgia for Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Georgia nears ‘point of no return’ with coronavirus
“For the next two weeks, stay at home.” That’s the message Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean for Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System, has for all of Georgia.
Speaking with GPB’s Virginia Prescott, he said that having everyone stay at home for two weeks would do three things: slow the spread of coronavirus, buy more time to ramp up testing to identify where problem areas are and make sure there’s enough capacity to treat people.
“We make sure we have the appropriate [personal protective equipment], we have the appropriate ICU bed supply, etc. so we don't get overwhelmed,” he said. “By doing those things, we're actually doing what's called ‘flattening the curve.’ We're preventing an onslaught of patients to come to our hospitals that would actually make our healthcare system collapse. So those are the things that need to happen.”
Kemp outlines ‘medically fragile’ that need to stay home
In a 5 p.m. digital speech, Kemp announced the first statewide restrictions aimed at minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Bars and nightclubs are closed.
Those who are “medically fragile,” plus anyone who has been around someone with COVID-19, are ordered to “shelter within their homes or place of residence” until April 6. That includes people in a nursing home or long-term care facility, those who have chronic lung disease and people currently undergoing cancer treatment – all groups that are likely to have been staying home already.
The other part of the order limits most public gatherings of 10 or more – unless said gathering can ensure every person is at least six feet away from every other person at all times. Businesses and nonprofits (including churches) who violate the edict can be shut down by DPH.
Kemp’s decision was met with criticism from many who are calling for tougher restrictions to slow the virus, ranging from public health experts to Democratic lawmakers.
Other states have gone farther
According to the National Governors Association, at least nine states are under a stay at home order, while 37 total states and territories have a mandatory cap on the size of public gatherings. At least 35 states have some sort of statewide order closing or limiting the operation of some businesses.
Sunday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order that prohibits gatherings of 10 or more, requires restaurants in that state to only have takeout options and requires all businesses to “utilize alternative business models.”
Also Sunday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a stay at home order lasting until April 12.
“The bottom line is we’re in a race against time when it comes to this coronavirus and its spread across Louisiana,” Edwards said. “The mitigation measures that we have in place will not be effective if our people and our businesses do not actively participate.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an order last week shutting down bars and nightclubs statewide for 30 days and directing public beaches to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines limiting the size of public gatherings. Monday, Florida closed all state parks because too many people were still visiting them.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster last week closed bars and dine-in restaurants, limited events of 50 or more from happening in government facilities.
In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey issued an updated public health order that prohibits all non-work related gatherings of 25 people or more, or public gatherings of any size that cannot maintain a 6-foot distance between people. Restaurants and bars are not allowed to have on-site consumption and beaches are also closed through April 5.
Atlanta, Savannah under stay-at-home orders for two weeks
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is effectively locking down Georgia’s largest city with a 14-day stay-at-home order that directs people to stay inside unless they work for essential businesses or are getting essential services.
Some of those essential businesses include health care operations, grocery stores and farmers markets, gas stations, banks, public transportation and restaurants that are delivery or takeout only.
Atlantans can leave their homes under a few circumstances, including health care needs (like going to the doctor or to the pharmacy), supply needs (like the grocery store), going to work at an essential business and engaging in outdoor activity.
The Atlanta BeltLine, city parks and other shared outdoor spaces remain open for use as long as people socially distance themselves at least six feet away from others.
Bottoms was set to issue the order earlier Monday, but Kemp asked her to hold off until after his press conference announcing statewide social distancing changes. In a press release, Bottoms said the city needed to exercise “every reasonable power” to slow the spread of the virus.
“I appreciate the leadership of Governor Brian Kemp during this crisis and his concern for the wellbeing of the people across Georgia,” Bottoms said. “While Governor Kemp has to consider the needs of the state as a whole, as Mayor of Atlanta, I have been entrusted with making decisions that are specific to our city. Given our population density, high rate of asthma, and various underlying health conditions found within our city’s populations, I am issuing a Stay at Home Order for Atlantans.”
In Savannah, mayor Van Johnson also signed an order to stay at home. The mayor delayed implementing this order out of deference to Gov. Brian Kemp, who announced new emergency measures Monday evening, Johnson said in a news conference. Kemp's action, Johnson said, did not go far enough.
"We would love to have some state mandates because that means everybody's playing by the same rules," Johnson said.
Other cities and counties are imposing limitations to curb the spread of coronavirus
Atlanta, Columbus, Savannah, Augusta and Macon have passed restrictions closing certain establishments and limiting public crowds. Macon Mayor Robert Reichert announced Monday morning an order that closes restaurant dining rooms and bars, plus businesses like hair salons where people come in close contact. Public gatherings of more than 10 people are also not allowed, including churches.
In southwest Georgia, Dougherty County has been hit especially hard by the virus and is implementing a shelter-in-place order to keep people at home.
The order seeks to prevent the virus from travelling in the community by closing businesses deemed non-essential and limiting public gatherings until at least early April.
“I don't think people are taking this threat as seriously as we should,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said during a press conference Sunday. “The coroner has got on this podium and explained people are dying. The medical professionals have told us this is a highly contagious virus. We cannot wait till we are infected to stop the spread.”
The order grants several exceptions, including grocery stores, healthcare centers, banks, hardware stores and take-out restaurants.
Officials in Athens-Clarke County enacted a similar shelter-in-place order last week.
DeKalb County has now ordered bars and restaurants to be takeout or delivery only, prevents public gatherings over 10 people (including places like bowling alleys and gyms) and also enacts a voluntary curfew.
Several other cities and counties in Georgia have also put curfews in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Near Atlanta, those cities include Tucker, College Park and South Fulton.
The city of Milledgeville, as well as Sumter, Baldwin, and Laurens counties have also enacted curfews, which closes establishments and limits travel in the evening, except for people working, getting supplies or seeking medical aid.
Death toll at 38
Thirty-eight people have died from COVID-19 so far, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Two of those are health care workers. Last week, Donalsonville Hospital in southwest Georgia announced one of its employees tested positive at a different hospital and died. A mammogram technician at Piedmont Newnan Hospital died in her home last week as well.
Coronavirus task force member has coronavirus, four Senators with confirmed cases
State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) announced on Facebook Friday that she had tested positive for COVID-19. The physician said she self-quarantined immediately after developing a fever last weekend, was tested Sunday and received results Friday.
She is the fourth state senator to test positive after Alpharetta Republican Brandon Beach sent the entire legislature into self-quarantine earlier this week.
Beach was at the Capitol as late as Monday with symptoms of the virus, even as he was awaiting results for his COVID-19 test.
Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) posted on Facebook Sunday he tested positive after being hospitalized most of last week.
Sen. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta), chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, detailed her testing ordeal on Facebook, writing Sunday she got her positive diagnosis after waiting nearly five days for results.
"The positive #COVID19 test result was also a reminder that it’s not just 60+ year olds or people already sick that are testing positive," she wrote. "YOU can get this too. Many of you reading this already have the Coronavirus and are showing no symptoms."
Kemp named several committees for his coronavirus task force Friday, including Kirkpatrick as a member of the primary care provider committee.
COVID-19 cases in jails and prisons
An inmate at Fulton County Jail has tested positive for COVID-19. The man in his 30s has a chronic illness that may have made him more susceptible to the virus, officials said in a press release.
The Georgia Department of Corrections announced late Friday night that three inmates at Lee State Prison in Leesburg have tested positive for COVID-19. One has been hospitalized since March 15, the others since March 16.
According to a press release, no staff at the prison have exhibited symptoms of the illness, but earlier this week GDC said a staff member at one of the 34 state prisons has coronavirus.