Gov. Brian Kemp delivers an update on coronavirus in Georgia.
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Gov. Brian Kemp delivers an update on coronavirus in Georgia.

Gov. Brian Kemp will order a statewide stay-at-home order starting Friday until April 13 as the death toll from COVID-19 rises and the projected peak of coronavirus is still weeks away.

In a press conference outside the state Capitol, Kemp also announced a measure dealing with education.

“I will sign an executive order today closing K-12 public schools for the rest of the school year,” he said. “I want to stress that online learning will continue.

Kemp said that modeling and data “has dramatically changed” for Georgia over the past 48 hours, a time when the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 has ballooned. As of Wednesday at noon, more than 120 people have died and at least 4,638 people have tested positive for the virus. That number is likely larger.

“The CDC has announced that individuals can be infected and begin to spread coronavirus earlier than previously thought, even if they have no symptoms from a public health standpoint,” he said. “This is a revelation, and a game-changer.”

In an interview with WABE this week, CDC director Robert Redfield said as many as 25% of people who are infected with the new coronavirus may not show symptoms.

Kemp also said that new models show the state will need more time to prepare for a surge in hospitalized patients, and the shelter-in-place order aims to delay the worst of the virus a few weeks down the road.

“I think the issue is, we still continue to have people that are not taking this seriously,” he said. “I'm very thankful to those Georgians that we have that have literally been staying home with their families unless they were going to their place of employment.”

More details about the order will be released on Thursday, but the new rules will be in place through the end of the governor’s public health emergency April 13.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, said that the decision was made in part by continuing to see community spread in places across Georgia as well as the new guidance about people who are asymptomatic.

“Now is the time to stop that transmission before the hospitals get overrun,” she said.

The order comes at a time when the state is behind on testing and seeking to ramp up capacity through a partnership with labs at several universities.

Over the next week, resources and equipment will arrive to help the schools test over 3,000 COVID-19 samples a day, dramatically expanding public health officials’ understanding of where the virus is spreading in Georgia.

“As you know from the beginning we have used data, science and the advice of healthcare professionals to determine our preparedness and relief efforts,” Kemp said. These new testing numbers will provide a better picture of COVID-19’s impact on our state and continue to inform our decisions as we move forward.”