ATLANTA (WJBF/GPTV) – Georgia Governor Brian Kemp gave a briefing regarding the state’s COVID-19 response, Monday afternoon.
The Governor was joined by Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency Director Homer Bryson, and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden.
“Good afternoon, and thanks for being with us. As you know, the State of Georgia experienced severe weather in multiple regions with tornadoes reportedly touching down in Catoosa, Chattooga, Floyd, Murray, Walker, Wayne, and Upson Counties. There are currently 59,000 Georgians without power. Forty-nine Georgians are injured, twenty-three homes were destroyed, fifty-nine homes have minor damage, and there are 248 homes waiting to be assessed for damage.
“So far, we have confirmed that seven Georgians lost their lives in these terrible storms. Our hearts go out to their loved ones. Given the widespread impact, I declared a state of emergency this morning in all 159 counties to facilitate the deployment of critically needed resources. In coordination with private-sector partners, GEMA, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Transportation, and the Georgia Forestry Commission are working hard to restore power, clear debris, and provide assistance to families. Please join us in praying for everyone affected by these storms. We will do our part to help these hardworking Georgians recover. Together, we will rebuild what was lost.
“As of noon today, we now have 13,315 COVID-19 cases in Georgia spanning 157 counties with 464 deaths. The state lab has processed 3,750 tests, and commercial vendors have processed 53,271 tests. Despite our partnerships and undeniable progress, our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag. The status quo is unacceptable, and Dr. Toomey is pushing public health officials across our state to collect more specimens and process more tests. This morning, Dr. Toomey held a conference call with public health directors in every region, directing them to expand test sites and revise current testing criteria. We need to be firing on all cylinders to prepare for the days and weeks ahead.
“At Dr. Toomey’s direction, we are expanding testing criteria to include symptomatic critical infrastructure workers and asymptomatic individuals who have had direct contact with positive COVID-19 patients, including family members. We will also continue to prioritize testing for symptomatic individuals with chronic health conditions along with first responders, healthcare workers, law enforcement, and long-term care facility residents and staff regardless of symptoms. And although physicians can continue to refer patients to us for testing at public health sites, state officials can directly schedule people who require testing through local districts.
“Now, I want to be crystal clear: we do not want people showing up unannounced to a hospital, emergency room, or healthcare facility for a test. You need to contact your local health department beforehand to arrange for a test.
“While testing numbers continue to frustrate Georgians and state leaders alike, I am proud of the progress that we have made to expand surge capacity. Over the weekend, the state executed a contract to build an alternate care facility at the Georgia World Congress Center. Yesterday, the Georgia National Guard, GEMA, Department of Community Health, Department of Public Health, and contractors began preparing the site for potential COVID-19 patient surge. Using 200 non-ICU medical pods – similar to large office cubicles – for patient rooms, we will be able to house Georgians with mild to moderate illness, and – if needed – we can quickly expand capacity to 400 non-ICU beds.
“Our team will utilize contract medical staffing leading up to the state’s projected peak date, currently set for April 26, 2020 according to the IHME model.* This project will leverage existing support through nearby Grady Memorial Hospital with initial operating capacity available in roughly one week. We are grateful for our partnership with Grady under the leadership of John Haupert.
“This project will ensure flexibility and address needs as they arise, but this project is just one of many underway to prepare for surge capacity in Georgia. Recently, we secured commitments from many Georgia hospitals to convert hundreds of rooms into critical care space. Just a few days ago, Piedmont Healthcare announced an early opening of Marcus Tower to bring 132 hospital beds online – including sixty-four ICU beds – for COVID-19 patients.
“This expanded capacity at healthcare facilities across Georgia, and now with new construction at the Georgia World Congress Center, gives us flexibility ahead of the peak, and in the aftermath of severe storms, today is an excellent example of why you need a facility like the one at the Georgia World Congress Center.
“In coordination with the Georgia Hospital Association, we have worked to gather the most up-to-date information on bed capacity so we can continue to make informed decisions. As of today, we have 2,617 emergency room beds, 929 critical care beds, and nearly 6,000 general inpatient beds available statewide. By the end of this week, we hope to provide this bed capacity update daily to the public.
“For over a month, we’ve talked about our aging population, our most vulnerable in the battle against coronavirus. We’ve issued guidance and orders to protect these men and women, and we’ve taken measured steps to shield them from harm. Right now, there are at least eighty long-term care facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, personal care homes, hospice, and similar community living facilities, with COVID-19 cases. We’re working to verify new information on additional facilities.
“To mitigate the spread of coronavirus in these facilities, I charged General Carden with deploying teams to these facilities to sanitize and train staff on infection control measures to stop further spread. Utilizing sixty infection control teams, the Guard has cleaned 229 facilities. Right now, the Guard has nineteen medical support teams – with most comprised of physicians, nurses, and medics – working in hospitals to assist with COVID-19 triage and treatment. We have sixty service members working hospital entry at twenty-one hospitals and twenty-seven service members deployed at state isolation sites. We also have service members stationed at ten food distribution sites to assist with delivery of goods. The Georgia National Guard is working day and night to keep Georgia safe.
“As I’ve mentioned previously, the state purchased four temporary medical units to expand bed capacity and strategically deploy based on need. In Rome, we will have one unit operational by April 21, and in Albany, we will have a second unit operational on April 28. We will also have one unit in Gainesville and one unit in Macon, both set to become operational on May 5.
“To quickly increase staffing in critical healthcare locations affected by COVID-19, the state has partnered with Jackson Healthcare, which has a portfolio of staffing, search, and technology companies to assist health systems, hospitals, and facilities with workforce needs. We are working through Jackson Healthcare’s subsidiary Healthcare Workforce Logistics to bring roughly 570 additional healthcare professionals to key systems across the state. We’ll issue a press release with more information, and the state is creating specific guidance on how healthcare facilities can request assistance.
“During this battle against COVID-19, we have seen businesses, organizations, institutions, and Georgians from every corner of our state go above and beyond to lend a hand. One great example is our world-class university system. Recently, Augusta University – the state’s only public academic medical center – launched a web-based app that provides telemedicine screening of patients. With an app available on Apple and Android smartphones, this tool allows healthcare providers to interact with patients without risk of exposure. If the result is a positive screening, further instructions will be provided on where to go for testing. Having tested this program in the Augusta area to 7,500 individuals, Augusta University is ready to offer this tool statewide. To access the app, go to augustahealth.org/COVID19. For those without access to internet or video capabilities on their smartphone or computer, you can call Augusta University’s COVID-19 hotline at (706) 721-1852. By leveraging technology and embracing innovation, we can ease the burden on medical facilities and provide patients access to the care that they need.
“To facilitate emergency response efforts and provide assistance to communities in need, I have issued a series of executive orders. And earlier today, I signed an order suspending enforcement of Georgia’s anti-mask statute so people can follow the guidance of public health officials without fear of prosecution. I want to thank Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for raising awareness about this issue.
“There are several other people and organizations that I’d like to recognize for their efforts behind the scenes. Once again, I’d like to thank Kevin Brown, CEO of Piedmont Healthcare, and his team – along with the other great healthcare professionals across our state – for working day and night on smart ways to increase surge capacity and keep Georgians safe and healthy. I want to thank members of the business community who have stepped up to answer the call to action in recent weeks; like Delta Airlines, which is providing free flights for out-of-state medical volunteers who are willing to travel and join the frontline fight against the virus; CVS Health, which last week helped us to increase our testing capacity by 1,000 tests per day at Georgia Tech; the Home Depot, which is prioritizing shipments of PPE to healthcare workers; and countless other businesses who have completely overhauled their operations to provide resources and supplies to those on the frontlines.
“I want to thank state and local law enforcement for their hard work. These men and women spent their weekend patrolling beaches and parks, ensuring that Georgians were following the guidance. I want to thank Colonel Vowell and the Department of Public Safety as well as Commissioner Williams and the Department of Natural Resources for keeping Georgians safe. And finally, on the heels of Easter Weekend, I want to thank the faith community in Georgia. This past weekend – perhaps for the first time in their history – many had to find new ways to worship during one of the most sacred times of the year to ensure the health and safety of their congregations. Through online, drive-in, or call-in services, it was a great reminder that even though we must be apart right now, we can still come together in worship.