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

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

Gov. Brian Kemp and the state’s top legislative leaders will renew the state’s public health emergency for another month as Georgia begins to see a sharp uptick in cases and deaths from COVID-19.

As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 8, there are more than 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 369 reported deaths in all but four of Georgia’s 159 counties. Close to 39,000 tests have been performed by state and commercial labs. The state also says 2,082 people have been hospitalized so far.

Here is the latest coronavirus news from Georgia for Wednesday, April 8, 2020.

Stay-home order, public health emergency extended

Gov. Brian Kemp extended Georgia's stay-home order through April 30 as the state continues to see a rapid increase in COVID-19 testing, cases and deaths.
"While I'm encouraged by some of the recent data, we still have incredible challenges before us," a somber Kemp said in a Wednesday press conference.

All provisions of the previous executive order will remain in place, which means bars, nightclubs, gyms and other places where people gather will remain close, and restaurants will still be limited to delivery, take-out or curbside pickup.

Georgia’s public health emergency will now run through May 13, Kemp also announced Wednesday morning.

The original declaration was set to expire April 13. Under state law, the governor can renew the emergency, and both Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston agree with the move and will not call a special legislative session.

“To ensure the health and well-being of Georgians, I will extend the public health state of emergency through May 13, 2020,” Kemp said in a statement. “This measure will allow us to continue to deploy resources to communities in need, lend support to frontline medical providers, and keep preparing as we brace for potential patient surge in our healthcare facilities. We deeply appreciate the hard work of Georgians who are sheltering in place, using social distancing, and helping us flatten the curve. We are in this fight together.”

When the original public health emergency was signed, there were 66 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death. Now, the state has over 10,000 cases and more than 350 deaths across virtually every county.

Department of Public Health: stay at home and wear a mask

The latest press release from DPH cites a “sharp increase” in cases and deaths, as the state expands testing and begins to grapple with just how much COVID-19 has spread.

“Without question, these numbers also tell us that COVID-19 is widespread throughout Georgia,” the release says.

Tips: Stay home, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and wear a mask if you have to go out in public, especially in coronavirus hotspots.

Georgia still hasn’t released racial data of who is impacted by the coronavirus

While we largely know the gender, age, county and health condition of those who have died from COVID-19, Georgia does not have data for the race of those deaths. At the county level, there are only totals of cases and deaths, not broken down by zip code.

Health officials also have said they do not know how many people are in the ICU or are on ventilators because of the virus.

Stranded cruise ship passengers flown back to Georgia

More than a month after they left shore for a South American cruise, four Georgians are now home safe.

The two couples were stranded on the Coral Princess ship off the coast of Florida, where three people have died and at least a dozen tested positive for the coronavirus.


Their method of transport home? Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s private jet. Yep, that private jet that she purchased last year and uses to travel back and forth from D.C. and to campaign stops.

David Fowler, 73, (no relation to the author) is grateful for the ride home and said he did not see the gesture as a political act.

“People can say what they want,” he said. “I lived it.”

Atlanta airport struggling to deal with influx of people seeking shelter

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is struggling to deal with an influx of people seeking refuge, as hundreds of the ctiy’s homeless are sheltering at the airport terminal on any given night.

Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Brown says safety for airport employees is also important.

“The situation has become quite serious at the airport,” he said. “The conditions are creating a harmful environment to the safety workers, the airport employees and staff [and] the airlines staff and employees.”

CVS has drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Atlanta

The state and CVS Health are partnering to operate a drive-thru COVID-19 rapid testing site in a Georgia Tech parking deck.

At full capacity, the site could process about 1,000 tests per day in about 30 minutes per test, the governor’s office said.

"Increased access to rapid testing remains one of our top priorities in order to identify more cases, get Georgians the care they need, and prevent further infection in our communities," Kemp said in a press release. "This unique, public-private partnership will strengthen our testing capability as we continue to take the fight to COVID-19 in Georgia, and we are grateful for CVS Health's support to stop the spread of the virus."

It’s important to note that you cannot just drive up and get a test: there is an online pre-screening and registration for an appointment.

The tests are free.

Clash over beach reopening

The governor’s shelter-in-place order supersedes any county or city orders that are more or less restrictive than the statewide edict.

That has led to controversy on some of Georgia’s beaches.

Previously, both state and local leaders closed several beaches to prevent the spread of coronavirus in large groups congregating on the shores of Tybee Island, St. Simons, Jekyll Island and other coastal hangouts.

But the governor’s order carves out an exception to the stay-home rule that allows for outdoor exercise, and at least one member of his staff is encouraging people to do so on the sand.

“Georgia – go to the beach, lake or a state park,” Kemp’s chief of staff Tim Fleming wrote on Facebook, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “They are all open and despite what the media is reporting there have been no issues on Georgia beaches or lakes today. People have been able to get out of the house to get fresh air and exercise. As long as they do not congregate and practice social distancing. As we have seen this past week the media will do anything to create chaos.”

For the second weekend in a row, Fleming’s social media posts are antagonistically at odds with local elected officials.  

Over the weekend, Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions sent a blistering statement decrying the move.

“As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines,” Sessions wrote. “Tybee City Council and I are devastated by the sudden directives and do not support his decisions. The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk and we will pursue legal avenues to overturn his reckless mandate.”

A look at the waterfront from the Savannah Morning News:

“Out on the beach, GSP officers occasionally made the rounds to eject beachgoers who were obviously defying Kemp’s order, with several of them sitting on beach chairs drinking beer. Other youths played games or went swimming, while quite a few sunbathers stretched any reasonable definition of ‘exercise’ to the point of incredulity.”

Defying the statewide order, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson extended that city’s emergency measures through the end of April, and said on NBC Nightly News Sunday he did not understand the governor’s decision.

“Here we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and yet where we’re closing schools, we’re opening beaches," Johnson said. "In my mind, that does not compute.”

Also of note, the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Public Safety are patrolling these beaches to keep the social distancing policies enforced.


Georgia under shelter-in-place

The shelter-in-place order runs through April 13 because that is the end of the currently-declared public health emergency in Georgia.

Projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show the peak of Georgia’s infections won’t come until the end of April, and the state could run out of hospital bed space in less than two weeks.

So, it’s highly likely that the stay-home order will be extended.

But what does this mean for you? Some jobs and businesses are considered “essential infrastructure” and will still be open, albeit with more health and safety precautions in place.

Other businesses will temporarily shutter.

Bars and nightclubs are already closed down statewide, and now that will include gyms, bowling alleys, barber shops and some other places where people gather. Churches and funeral services can’t have more than 10 people unless they can stay 6 feet away from everyone at all times.

Restaurants can’t have dine-in customers, and must utilize take-out, delivery or curbside pickup to stay open.

University labs will boost testing capacity

Kemp announced last week a laboratory surge capacity plan that will utilizes resources in the University System of Georgia, the Georgia Public Health Laboratory and Emory University to ramp up the availability of PCR testing for COVID-19.

"Adequate testing for COVID-19 has continued to be a top priority for the Coronavirus Task Force as we fight this pandemic," Kemp said in a press release. "With this innovative partnership between state government agencies, our world-class research institutions, and private-sector partners, we will be able to dramatically increase testing capacity."

From the release: “A major hurdle in this process has been securing critical reagents, instrumentation, and supplies needed in the PCR process from commercial vendors to ramp up and begin testing. Supply chain volatility has been a barrier to implementation and could continue to put the testing process at risk across the state.”

Once fully operational, the state expects an additional 3,000 samples a day can be processed, cutting down on a reporting time and giving officials a better picture of where the virus has spread. Equipment and supplies are being transferred to Georgia State University, Augusta University, Emory University and the Georgia Public Health Laboratory to operate with minimal disruptions.

Here’s some context: The state public health lab hasn’t performed 3,000 tests in total since the beginning of the pandemic. And overall, Georgia has reported just over 16,000 tests completed, once you add in commercial labs.

So one week of this new ramped-up processing would produce more completed test results in Georgia than the state had in the entire month of March.

Elections directors share plans, concerns, fears about May primary

As coronavirus continues to spread in communities across Georgia, elections officials are grappling with the challenge of running a safe, fair and secure election during a pandemic.  

GPB News and Georgia News Lab reporters spoke with more than half of the state’s 159 county elections directors who described an extra layer of uncertainty — even fear, in some cases — about preparations for the May 19 primary.


Georgia’s poll workers are typically older, a population with higher risk of serious illness from the virus. Churches, senior centers and other non-government buildings that were slated to open up for Election Day March 24 might be unavailable.  Social distancing guidelines that limit public gatherings could hamper a new voting system designed to speed up the process.

“I'll be honest, it is getting a little scary,” Lee County’s elections supervisor said. “At first it's ‘go with the flow and do what you're told,’ social distancing as much as you can and hand washing and all of that. But after a while, it really starts to get to you.”

Georgia Forms Coronavirus Community Outreach Committee

The governor announced the formation of a coronavirus community outreach committee in a press release in an effort to support more Georgians during the pandemic.

"Comprised of talented individuals from the public and private sectors, I am confident this committee will ensure that our state remains prepared in the fight against COVID-19,” Kemp said in a news release Saturday. 

VISUALIZE: Map of coronavirus infections and deaths

GPB’s Grant Blankenship created a map showing the impact of coronavirus on a per capita level of cases and deaths per 100,000 people in all 159 counties. It shows a magnitude of virus that raw numbers might mask, especially in southwest Georgia.