Georgia Expands COVID-19 Testing Criteria, Hospital Capacity As Peak Approaches
Gov. Brian 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.
Moving forward, Kemp said tests will be available for critical infrastructure workers who have symptoms as well as asymptomatic people who had contact with someone who tested positive, including family members.
"We will also continue to prioritize testing for symptomatic individuals with chronic health conditions, along with first responders, health care workers, law enforcement and long-term care facility residents and staff, regardless of their symptoms," he said.
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."
But a dearth of data about the true impact of the coronavirus on Georgia has plagued the state for much of the pandemic.
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.
"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."
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.