Mar 27, 2020
Governor Brian Kemp Georgia Coronavirus Town Hall Transcript March 27
Jovita Moore: (00:01)
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the governor’s statewide town hall on the corona-virus. I’m Jovita Moore at WSB-Television here in Atlanta. Throughout this hour, we’ll be speaking with the state’s top leaders in charge of the task force responding to this crisis. The spread of COVID-19 is affecting all of us. In an unprecedented collaboration, six TV stations are teaming up tonight to bring you the important information you and your families need. This town hall is broadcasting in all television markets across Georgia, including Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah, and Albany, as well as on hundreds of radio stations and online. My colleagues and I will be speaking with task force members in a moment. But first, let’s take a look at how we got to this point.
Speaker 1: (00:44)
February 28th, Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp convened the first meeting of the state’s newly created coronavirus task force.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (00:51)
Well, we’ve got a great team assembled. I think you all bring a lot of different dynamics to the table.
Speaker 1: (00:58)
Three days later, on March 2nd, Georgia’s first confirmed cases of COVID-19, a father and son in Fulton County. A week later, there were six confirmed cases and another 11 presumptive positive. The same day, Fulton County school officials announced they would close all schools and offices after a teacher became infected.
Speaker 3: (01:18)
I don’t know what’s going on but they didn’t call me. I don’t know. I just came and got my keys because he sent me a message and told me to come get him.
Speaker 1: (01:25)
March 10th, the number of the confirmed or presumed cases grew to 22, including the first in south Georgia. On March 12th, Georgia’s officials reported the state’s first coronavirus-related death.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (01:39)
You may be spreading the virus to others and not be aware.
Speaker 1: (01:42)
Governor Kemp declared a public health emergency.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (01:45)
[inaudible 00:01:45] felt like with this unprecedented event with the COVID-19 it certainly warranted that.
Speaker 1: (01:50)
With schools closed and most Georgians now working from home, this week some cities issued shelter-in-place orders.
Jovita Moore: (01:58)
And here is where the situation stands tonight. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia jumped to 1,525. To help put that in some perspective for you, there are more than 10 million people here in our state. Today, the governor issued an executive order to close public schools through April 24th. Unemployment claims are soaring in Georgia and across the country. 12,000 more Georgians filed for unemployment last week.
Jovita Moore: (02:23)
Tonight for this town hall, we are joined by the state’s top leaders in charge of handling this crisis. We will be hearing from them throughout this hour. We begin with the governor, Brian Kemp, who joins me here in our studio. Good evening, Governor.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (02:36)
Good evening. Thank you so much for having me.
Jovita Moore: (02:38)
So this town hall like this is unprecedented. You really wanted to make sure to get out this message statewide. So give us an overview right now. Where do things stand in Georgia tonight?
Gov. Brian Kemp: (02:49)
Well, first of all, let me thank everyone for joining in tonight. Thank all the media partners for this really unprecedented event of this statewide town hall so we can continue to be transparent with where we are, share the information that we need to get to our citizens so that they’re educated. Because it is going to be us, it is going to be us as Georgians, to beat this virus back. There’s no cure right now, there’s no vaccine. And it is up to all of us to get educated and to do our part to be victorious in this battle.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (03:21)
Although, I also want to take the opportunity to let those families know that have lost loved ones to this virus that we continue to pray for them. We’re continuing to pray for those frontline healthcare workers and public health officials, first responders, and a lot of other people all over this state that are on the frontlines every day putting their lives at risk. We are grateful for that and we will continue to be grateful for that.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (03:48)
But I look forward to talking tonight about where we are and what we need to do to end this battle, and I just want to thank everyone for joining us.
Jovita Moore: (03:56)
All right. Governor, thank you. Let me start off by asking you this question. So many people in Georgia feel like you need to order a shelter-in-place for everyone. Cities, towns have come out, counties have come out, in the past week or so to issue their own shelter-in-place warnings. Dr. Carlos del Rio, epidemiologist with Emory University, says that it’s almost too late if it doesn’t happen now, asking for a two-week shelter-in-place across the state. He describes it as “catastrophe.” Why not do that?
Gov. Brian Kemp: (04:26)
Well, I’ve been listening to the data from the public health officials and Dr. Toomey. Let me just say our team, Dr. Toomey, the other folks that will be joining the town hall tonight, have done a tremendous job of keeping me informed and helping the local communities. We continue to be in touch with communities all across this state. We continue to work with our task force, which has just the brightest of minds in our state, people from Emory and other health care facilities, and Georgians that are close to this pandemic that we’re dealing with. So I’ve gotten a lot of great advice and I’m making decisions based on that advice.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (05:03)
But I’m having to govern the whole state. It’s much different than certainly what Mayor Bottoms and other local elected officials have done. I’ve been in discussions with all of them about ways to handle this. I’m supportive of the actions that they’re taking. Much like the president and the vice president are doing, we’re following their advice of Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci as well and they are supporting the nation’s governors who have all taken different [inaudible 00:05:29] to deal with this virus.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (05:31)
But the day that, or Monday, I guess it was, when we did the recent order with closing bars and restaurants, sheltering in place the elderly and medically fragile, and locking down events with 10 people or more unless there were social distancing parameters in regards to that, I was also talking to local elected officials in parts of our state that have not even had a single case as of that time. And we still have over 50 counties that don’t have a confirmed case yet. So, you know, trying to balance all those things, continuing to go on the data that we have, and supporting local elected officials. I did that in Albany, I asked over a week ago if they wanted me to take action to help them with the hotspot we have down there. They asked me not to do that. They wanted to handle that locally. A week later I was on a call with all the local elected officials, not only in Dougherty County but surrounding counties, as they all came together to take action. And we have a lot of resources on the ground down there.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (06:37)
But that’s why I’ve made the decisions that I’ve made. I still have arrows in the quiver, if you will, if things get worse. But my case tonight to Georgians is if you will help us stop the spread, continue to fulfill the 15 days that the president and the vice president and the national task force to stop the spread. We’ve got a few more days to go. We have about 10 days to go on the recent action I took. There’s a lot of great things going on at the local level. If we can get our citizens to follow these directions, it will absolutely turn this curve. We can get on the other side of this virus.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (07:13)
And it’s critical that we do that for our healthcare system. We are in contact with them daily, our hospitals across the state, working to procure supplies that they need, whether it’s ventilators, PPE material, extra beds that we’re preparing for if and when a surge occurs. So, all of those things. But it’s really up to the public to cut down on the number of people that we have to go to the hospital. And we do that by what I targeted in my order and that was to protect the elderly and the medically fragile. That is the key to this right now.
Jovita Moore: (07:48)
Governor, thank you for answering that question. We may touch back on that topic in a moment throughout this hour, but let me ask you this next. Of course testing, you talk about healthcare workers in the system right now, talk about testing. Are there enough kits in Georgia? Where do we stand on those test kits right now?
Gov. Brian Kemp: (08:04)
Well, you can watch the numbers. And I would tell people, don’t get too alarmed by the number of our positive cases going up. The number of our testing every day is going up exponentially as well. Dr. Toomey And I both talked about that weeks ago, that as we did more testing we’re going to see more confirmed cases, so that has proven to be true. I think you’ll continue to see, and Dr. Birx talked about this at the federal level the other day, we got to get to a level in our state and in our country where we’re doing the same amount of testing basically across the state and across the country so that we can continue to measure the data. I feel like hopefully we’ll be there in another four or five days, maybe six or seven. I think you’re getting a good handle on the data at the federal level. And we have whole teams of people working on the data that we’re looking across the state.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (08:57)
But right now we have 10 counties in Georgia that make up 60% of the cases that we have. And there are six counties across the country, and when you think about the whole United States, there’s six counties across the country that represent 50% of the cases in the United States. So we have to continue to test more. Dr. Toomey and her team has done a great job. The private sector is now testing. I had a great conversation with something that we’re working on that [inaudible 00:09:26] hopefully ramp that up even further in the days to come. And that’ll continue to give us more data.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (09:32)
One of the problems that we have had, and you’ll hear this from hospital officials, is that the private sector test, it used to be taking six to seven days to get the results back. Now, in some instances, and probably more than not, it’s still taking four to five days to get the data back. We need that test to be able to get back in two days or a day. And there are some tests that are coming out now that have been approved by FDA, and I talked to Director Hahn the other day about those type things, that you can get test results in 15 to 45 minutes. And that is where we need to get to be. But we can’t just be so focused on testing that we’re not focused on how we curb and flat-line the spread of this virus, which is us practicing social distancing and other things.
Gov. Brian Kemp: (10:22)
Right now, we’re still getting guidance from CDC, and I’m sure Dr. Toomey may relate to this and reply on this as well in her comments, still preserving those for frontline healthcare workers. We absolutely have to keep that workforce in the game. To be able to do that, we have to be able to test them and make sure that they’re not working in a hospital environment if they are positive. So that’s critical. Our first responders, we need to be able to test them, and then as well is those really medically fragile patients. And then the rest of the population will come after that from the protocol that’s coming from CDC. Now that’s going to change as we continue to get more private sector testing. The good thing is, you know, a week ago we didn’t have 23 testing sites up in every region of the state, and we do today. We’re making more progress on that every single day.
Jovita Moore: (11:16)
Governor, thank you for that insight and your explanations so far. We’ll have more questions for the governor. He’ll be with us throughout this hour.
Jovita Moore: (11:23)
We’re now joined by Russ Spencer with a WAGA-Television. Russ is standing by with Dr. Kathleen Toomey. She’s Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. Russ.
Russ Spencer: (11:33)
Jovita, thanks very much. Dr. Toomey ran the Fulton County Health Department before assuming her statewide role. She is an epidemiologist, which means that she is a disease detective. She trained at Harvard, has held leadership positions at the CDC, including the Country Director in Botswana working with HIV. We’re very blessed to have your expertise with us tonight.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (11:52)
Thank you, thank you [inaudible 00:11:53].
Russ Spencer: (11:52)
And you break some news for us. The numbers are higher. You have access to the Public Health Department.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (11:57)
Well, these numbers will continue to go up. And you’ll see that this is something, as the governor said, as we do more testing and as the virus does spread in some communities, we will continue to see increasing numbers.
Russ Spencer: (12:09)
And what is the number now?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (12:10)
It’s about 1600, 1650. By morning it’ll be higher. But I’m less focused on the exact number and more focused on how we can get individuals to think about prevention. And if I could say a few words just about the virus, because I think there’s a lot of confusion in the community, even in my own community down the road, because “What’s coronavirus?” And somebody said, “I see on Lysol that it kills coronavirus,” but this was made before this outbreak. And in fact there are many coronaviruses. The common cold is a type of coronavirus. SARS and MERS that happened several years ago are a type of coronavirus. This is a novel coronavirus, which means it’s new. And it’s brand new, newly-recognized. It originated, we believe, in China but has spread throughout the world. And it was introduced in the United States and has spread across the country very, very quickly.
Russ Spencer: (13:18)
Well, let me ask you, do you see anything in the data that suggests that the social distancing we’ve been doing in Georgia is working?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (13:20)
I would say yes. The social distancing in some places began earlier than others. In places like Rome, which had some of the earlier high case rates, and we saw that related to, an outbreak related to a church attendance and [inaudible 00:13:40] large gathering. We have seen now that cases seem to be leveling off, but it takes [inaudible 00:13:47] remember this virus takes about two weeks, has an incubation period of as long as two weeks, so you’re not going to see immediate action. And the idea isn’t that we’ll prevent every case, but we’ll slow the spread. As the governor said in his opening statement, we want to flatten that curve. And the reason you want to do that is you want to keep people out of the hospital, flooding the hospitals, in a way that we can care for people. And that’s what you’re seeing in Italy, that’s what you’re seeing in other parts of Europe.
Russ Spencer: (14:21)
Right [inaudible 00:14:22] the governor’s consulting with you, obviously, but he’s got other things to consider. He said he didn’t want to do a statewide lockdown in one interview because there are a lot of folks still doubting the effects of the coronavirus in some parts of Georgia. But from a purely scientific point of view, I’m not trying to get you into an argument with the governor, but from a purely scientific point of view, would that be a good thing for the state?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (14:43)
Well, let me say this. You’re not going to get me into trouble. I’ve thought a lot about this. I have friends in Cedartown, I have friends in Hoboken, North and South. I live here in Atlanta. You know, what’s good for Atlanta, which is, I believe, the correct thing that Mayor Bottoms did, may not-
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (15:03)
… Is, I believe, the correct thing that Mayor Bottoms did may not be the correct thing for these other areas right now where they have limited spread. And if you look at CDC’s guidelines, the guidelines are tailored to the community and what the epidemiology is in that community and how things are spreading, and I think we in some cases can be doing contact tracing very aggressively still where the spread is relatively slow. In other areas like Albany, we really need to be doing very aggressive community mitigation. So it depends on the community where you’re located in.
Russ Spencer: (15:41)
Governor Cuomo of New York where the problem is the worst said today that no matter what they do, even if everybody locks down, the hospitals are going to ultimately be overwhelmed there, that they don’t have enough protective equipment for the longterm or ventilators for that matter. Do we have enough protective equipment for our nurses and our doctors, and enough ventilators for those who get critically ill?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (16:01)
We are really working hard to ensure that we stay on top of that. We are working with our federal partners. We are working … GEMA is on top of that. We are working with private vendors as well, so we’re not just relying on our federal partners to help us. We are assessing the needs of the hospitals constantly. We have our first shipment of ventilators coming in to help some of the harder hit areas like Rome and Albany, and we’re still keeping track of that. So that’s something that we want to be very, very cognizant of. We’re actually looking, which I think is a creative thing to be doing, where are some other opportunities to identify ventilators in the system. Such as technical colleges in our university system, where there’s teaching done with the ventilators. We can access those now and use them, deploy them as it were to help our healthcare system. And we can even use anesthesia machines to help with ventilators. And so we’re actually trying to amass the needed amounts before it comes to that crisis point.
Russ Spencer: (17:03)
Well, you’re war gaming this. How many ventilators do we need in Georgia and how many do we have?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (17:08)
I can’t tell you off the top of my head how many we have or how many we’ll need. We need to continue to monitor and work with a hospital system. One of our key partners is the Georgia Hospital Association and they’re in a better position to help identify those actual numbers but we’ll track that and continue to work hard to ensure we have extra on hand and don’t get in that behind position. We are earlier in our epidemic than New York is, so we have a chance to mitigate this in a way that perhaps they didn’t. And I think that selective testing to try to find the highest risk individuals, aggressive contact tracing, as we’re doing in nursing homes and other high risk facilities, and also where there’s a few number of cases, just saying some counties are relatively few cases. Our epidemiology teams can get in there and stop spread quicker. We can’t do that anymore where there’s widespread transmission, where these community interventions will be our best bet there.
Russ Spencer: (18:08)
Yeah. We’re hearing that folks who are asymptomatic can spread this. Young people in particular, it would seem because they don’t seem not to be effected as badly. If that’s the case, why wouldn’t it make sense to test more widely to make sure that asymptomatic people aren’t spreading this virus?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (18:22)
Well, obviously the more you test, the better it would be. We are limited, as is every other state by the number of tests we have. And I want to say something about young people, they do acquire the virus. They think they’re immune, but they’re not.
Russ Spencer: (18:35)
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (18:35)
They do have symptoms. They may not recognize it as something serious because 80% of coronavirus cases are relatively mild, like the flu or even less severe. It’s that 20% of cases that are very severe, particularly in the elderly, particularly in those with chronic health conditions that we’re trying to prevent right now.
Russ Spencer: (18:59)
All right. We asked viewers for some questions. We got a lot of people asking over the phone in particular can mosquitoes spread this when it gets warmer? I think I know the answer, but put people at ease on that one.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (19:10)
No, not to our knowledge, because this is not transmitted by … It’s not a mosquito born or vector borne disease. It isn’t like Zika or West Nile. This is spread like the flu with respiratory secretions, so just like coughing or sneezing on someone or even touching a dirty surface.
Russ Spencer: (19:29)
Okay. Everybody has seen clouds of pollen outside. Most everybody’s suffering in som way or another with allergies. Does that make us more prone to difficulties with this virus if we contract?
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (19:40)
Well, that’s a great question because it shouldn’t make you more prone to the virus would, it may make you confused and think you might have it because you have some congestion or some … Or feel a little under the weather. But I think that the coronavirus usually has a fever, usually has just a bad feeling and it is different and isn’t treated with your allergic … Anti-allergic medicines.
Russ Spencer: (20:06)
Well, Dr. Toomey, we appreciate your time and thank you for being here and for all you’re doing with the governor’s coronavirus task force.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey: (20:11)
Everything I can do to help educate the public and help get their help and preventing this virus. I’m there to help. Thanks so much.
Russ Spencer: (20:18)
Javita, back to you.
All right, Russ, thank you. This week Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms declared a state of emergency and ordered a stay at home order. Cheryl Prehiem with WXIA TV joins us now to interview the mayor. Cheryl?
Cheryl Prehiem: (20:35)
Yeah, I’m broadcasting from my home tonight as 11 live tries to support the statewide effort to work from home. So there might be a slight delay between my questions and the mayor’s answers. Mayor, thanks for the time. You’re part of the state coronavirus task force, and I understand you’ve made some recommendations on your subcommittee related to the homeless. Can you update us on those?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (20:57)
Sure. And thank you for staying at home. I want to thank the governor for asking me to serve on this committee, and this was a high level working group consisting of people across the state, all with very valuable input. And also thank you to Katherine Marchmen and John Keen for helping to lead this effort. What we did was come up with a list of six objectives to pass on to the governor as it relates to our homeless population. We know that our homeless population is a very vulnerable population, just by virtue of the fact that they are homeless. They often have underlying health conditions that we’ve discussed that make them more susceptible to severe illness as it relates to the coronavirus.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (21:45)
So what we did was to create a list of six objectives that we wanted to achieve. Those objectives included preventing additional people from becoming homeless, supporting enhanced cleaning, screening and referral services, expanding testing for high risk individuals in areas, establishing a reporting process specific to homeless and displaced persons, ensuring appropriate options for quarantine and isolation are available, and also ensuring that transportation options are available for people after they are released for the hospital.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (22:22)
I’m very pleased to say, as the result of the work that we’ve already done, we’ve had an angel donor in the downtown area who has donated a hotel to allow homeless individuals who may need isolation or quarantine to allow them a place to stay during that time. It also gives our service providers an opportunity to come in contact with the homeless population and make sure that we are making available to them additional wraparound services that may be helpful as we try and navigate them away from homelessness.
Cheryl Prehiem: (23:01)
Yeah. So many people going through such difficult times. You were one of the first cities to implement the stay at home order, and I understand a lot of cities have been reaching out to you asking questions. Do you expect others to follow suit and would you recommend that they do that?
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (23:21)
If it were my call, I would have a stay at home order for the entire country, but obviously that is not my call and I certainly understand and respect the governor’s position that he is balancing diverse constituencies across the state and their needs may be a bit different than ours. But as it relates specifically to the metropolitan Atlanta area, I think that many of the cities surrounding Atlanta certainly have many of the same issues that I saw in Atlanta. Many of our communities have underlying health conditions, like asthma. I have four children in my house who are asthmatic. We know that’s an underlying health condition. Whether it’s high blood pressure or diabetes or respiratory issues or lupus or any number of other issues, and so I think especially for our more densely populated cities like Atlanta and our surrounding cities, I do think a stay at home order would be appropriate, but I certainly understand that there are many other cities throughout the state that are not navigating the same challenges that we are in the city, and I understand and respect the governor’s decision.
Cheryl Prehiem: (24:37)
We’re hearing from medical professionals in different hospitals that they are already crowded and the ICUs are struggling. We heard from Grady on Monday that they were at the tipping point. Talk to us about plans that you have in place for some of our state’s largest hospitals that are in your city.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (24:56)
And we have to remember that Grady is already in a compromised position because of the flood a couple of months ago and on any given day Grady may be near capacity. The anecdotal information that I received just yesterday was that Grady was around 90% at capacity in its ICU. So we had to remember in the midst of this coronavirus, heart attacks don’t stop, car accidents don’t stop. Any of the other number of other things that send people into the ICU.
Keisha Lance Bottoms: (25:25)
So it is of tremendous concern to me, and by the projections that I’ve received from dr Carlos Del Rio at Emory, at this rate, we will exceed our capacity in the state by May 3rd. But certainly it’s our hope that with these proactive measures in place, that we can stop and slow down the spread of this virus. But in working with the governor who has been a great partner in LA in leading this effort, I know that there are plans already in place to expand our footprint that many of our hospitals, and I know that many sites have been reviewed as secondary places that we can house people if necessary, but it really is my prayer that it does not come to that in this state. But I certainly trust that with the leadership of our health partners and with the governor’s leadership that we will be prepared in the city.
Cheryl Prehiem: (26:27)
And it goes without saying. We cannot thank enough every person in our medical professional field, every healthcare worker for all the work that they’re doing day and night under really challenging circumstances. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Thank you so much for the time tonight, and Javita, I’ll send it back to you.
Thank you. All right. Thank you Cheryl and mayor bottoms. There’s much more ahead this hour. We’re going to hear from the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the governor will be to answer your questions. And here is the number for the Georgia Department of Public Health hotline, that number on your screen. 844-442-2681. Again, 844-442-2681. Remember, if you have any symptoms, call this number first before you go to your doctor’s office. We’re going to have this number for you again after the break, and we’ll be back in two minutes. (silence). Emergency management and Homeland Security Agency, Homer Bryson. Sean?
Jovita Moore: (30:02)
And Homeland security agency, Homer Bryson. Shon?
Shon Gables: (30:04)
Jovita, thank you, and on behalf of CBS 46 along with myself and my corporate family, we are exercising social distancing. So Director Bryson, I will be asking you these questions from inside my own home. You have helped Georgians recover from hurricanes and tornadoes for three years as head of Emergencies and Homeland Security. How is the coronavirus pandemic different from those natural disasters, and how is it the same?
Homer Bryson: (30:34)
Well, that’s a really great question, and the principles of emergency management are really the same. And we have a great play book in our state, and we’re following that. We’ve got 15 state partners in our emergency operations center with us. Of course our primary partner at the state level is Department of Public Health, which is rather unique. That’s different for us, but principles and processes are the same. We get in the partners that we need at the state level, the federal level, the local level, the private partners. We identify what the issue is, and then we focus on what we do to address those issues. We’ve identified a number of different areas that are primary importance to us with this particular incident. You heard the governor speak earlier about the testing sites. We’re coordinating and managing those 23 test sites. We’re finding isolation rooms for people that have the virus but aren’t sick enough to be in a hospital and don’t have a home environment to go to because of elderly relatives, whatever the case may be.
Homer Bryson: (31:41)
We’re looking for, as the mayor mentioned, we’re looking at additional bed space for the hospitals, both inside existing facilities, and we’re also looking with private vendors and the Corps of Engineers at options to build space if we do need that. A lot has been said about the personal protective equipment and the ventilators, and we’ve made a lot of progress in the last week and been able to find that equipment and push it out to our medical health providers and our first responders. Great progress. We’re not where we need to be. Next week I expect we’ll be in a lot better position with that, but that is certainly one of the big challenges that we’re working on.
Shon Gables: (32:27)
Director Bryson, we’ve discussed the capacity and the ICU units in hospitals across Metro Atlanta, the food shortages, residents not obeying social distancing. What are the worst case scenarios that you foresee, and what could be the best case?
Homer Bryson: (32:43)
Well, we’re going to leave the worst case scenarios to the medical professionals. They’re the experts, and we will lean on them for that. And we’ll be listening to them for scenarios, and so we’ll be planning based on those scenarios. Earlier you mentioned what’s different with this with a hurricane or with a tornado. Here’s what’s really different. A hurricane or tornado’s coming. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to stop that or prevent it. This is completely different. It’s in the citizens’ hands of this state. If people will just listen to what their local governments are telling them, listen to the Department of Public Health, listen to the CDC guidelines, separate ourselves from one another, isolate, be cautious when we’re out, then we don’t have that big of an event. So the uniqueness with this is the ability of the citizens in our state to control how big an issue this truly is, and how quickly we can recover and get back to normal.
Shon Gables: (33:48)
Director Bryson, we have less than 45 seconds left. I want to get this in. What are the contingency plans to protect Georgians in case a significant number of our first responders get COVID-19 and can’t respond to emergencies because they are sick?
Homer Bryson: (34:03)
The CDC has put in place some guidelines relative to that. We’ve set up some isolation sites where we can quarantine medical and first responders through a cycle to get them back to work as quickly as we can. We’re working diligently hours and hours every day to find the personal protective equipment that they need to do their jobs, and be safe, and not get sick.
Shon Gables: (34:31)
Director Homer Bryson, we certainly appreciate your time with the Emergencies and Homeland security. Jovita back to you.
Jovita Moore: (34:39)
Shon, thank you. Tonight we’re also partnering with Univision Atlanta and Telemundo Atlanta. The stations are working to keep all of our Spanish speaking neighbors and fellow Georgians informed of this critical information. Joining us now, Univision Atlanta anchor Gianncarlo Cifuentes is in our newsroom. Gianncarlo?
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (34:55)
Thank Jovita. I spoke with General John King, Georgia’s Insurance Commissioner via Skype. General King is bilingual, so I asked him the questions in Spanish and in English. I first asked him about people who are uninsured and afraid of getting tested because of medical bills. [foreign language 00:05:11].
John King: (35:21)
Absolutely unfounded fear there. We want people to be screened, but they need to be screened by their doctor. And they can call a doctor and get screened, and if a medical professional decides that it is wise to have those persons tested, the testing will be done free of charge. Georgia’s Department of Public Health has got a very, very comprehensive method of doing this, and they have the instructions in Spanish on their hotline.
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (35:56)
John King: (35:57)
Oh, sorry. [foreign language 00:05:54].
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (36:03)
[foreign language 00:06:26]. We’re getting concerns of a lot of calls and messages of viewers that are being worried about being evicted from their homes because they lost their jobs, and the landlords are still demanding the rent to be paid. Is this issue being tackled? Will there be leniency for these renters? [foreign language 00:06:41].
John King: (36:57)
I know that local leaders, both mayors and county commissioners and leaders in the local communities, are engaged in the governor’s office, and that is one of the things that is being figured out of how to approach that very carefully. Clearly there’s a role where the state government takes the lead, but in many of these situations, obviously the state government has to defer to the local control. It’s incredibly important that we respect the authority of our local leaders to make those kind of decisions, and these are all very hard decisions to make. Nobody is minimizing the challenge that we have.
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (37:36)
En español, por favor.
John King: (38:07)
[foreign language 00:37:34].
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (38:09)
Thank you for your time, General King. [foreign language 00:08:11].
John King: (38:16)
[foreign language 00:08:12].
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (38:16)
Now we are joined by Governor Brian Kemp. Governor, good evening.
Brian Kemp: (38:19)
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (38:21)
My first question, the emergency phone line for COVID-19 right now it’s only giving information in English. Is there a place to offer this information for Georgia and residents that may not be able to benefit from this information?
Brian Kemp: (38:34)
I think probably the best thing to do would be people to go to the Department of Public Health’s website. If that becomes an issue, we can certainly work with all Georgians. I mean, look, we want people to be educated. We have a lot of different resources. They also can go to their county health department, which is a great resource.
Brian Kemp: (38:51)
As you can imagine, we have a lot of people calling the statewide hotline. On some days, it may actually be a little easier to go to the county. We have actually added workforce to the call center hotline to keep up with the volume, and look, that’s what we want. We want people to get information so that we can share with them best practices, what they need to do if they feel like they need to be tested, and that is really part of our message tonight and while we’re so thankful that this event is taking place. So we can tell Georgians, if you feel like you’re getting sick, if you’re showing the symptoms of the flu, coronavirus, whatever it is, call your public health department, call our hotline number, call your doctor, ask for advice before you leave the house.
Brian Kemp: (39:37)
The last thing we want people to do is to be sick and be transmitting this disease by going to a doctor’s office waiting room, a hospital waiting room, or maybe saying, “I’ll get over it tomorrow. I got to run to the grocery store.” This is not the time to be doing that. We need people to stay at home if they’re sick and get that medical advice. And one of the ways that we stop the surge at the hospital is for people never to have to go there to start with, and if people will stay home, most people, most Georgians are going to have very mild symptoms. They can get over this in a couple of days, and there’s no need for hospitalization. Obviously if you start feeling bad, you need to call your doctor or call 911, but that is part of our goal is to educate Georgians. So we want to communicate in every way possible.
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (40:23)
Governor and are there any state programs that may assist Georgia residents that do not qualify for Medicaid due to the lack of proper documentation to cover those treatments for coronavirus?
Brian Kemp: (40:34)
Well, I can tell you from my discussions with our public health officials, with folks at the national and the federal level, no matter who the person is, if they’re in our state and they’re in our country, we’ve got to make sure that they get treated, and that they don’t continue to spread this virus. Whether it’s through Medicaid, Medicare, the indigent population funding, which I know is part of the stimulus. One of the stimulus packages, the president and the vice president have both spoken to that. Anybody that needs a test will be eligible to get one at no cost. And certainly the same is for treatment. This is vital that we stop the spread. As Dr. [Toomey 00:41:16] continues to say, we need people to do the right thing here. Georgians will be the solution to this.
Gianncarlo Cifuentes: (41:26)
Thank you, Governor Kemp. Jovita, back to you.
Jovita Moore: (41:27)
And thank you, Gianncarlo. Tonight we’re also partnering with Georgia Public Broadcasting, which broadcasts across the state, as you know. GPB anchor Patricia Murphy is here also in our newsroom with questions for the governor. Patricia?
Patricia Murphy: (41:38)
Thank you, Jovita, and thank you governor. Governor, earlier today you ordered that Georgia schools remain closed through April 24. What new information did you have that led to that decision, and will Georgia students be expected to meet state standards in the fall if they can’t return to school this spring?
Brian Kemp: (41:58)
Well, I did make that decision today, and like every decision I’ve made since we started dealing with this issue, I’ve been leaning on a lot of professionals, whether it’s in public health, whether it’s in public safety from a response standpoint with GEMA, general King’s preparedness committee, Mayor Bottoms on the homeless and displaced population, Dr. Ben Watson who’s a state senator who’s on our physicians’ task force communicating with the medical community all over the state, our hospitals, you name it, faith leaders, and we’re doing the same with our school leaders from across the state. I’ve had some great calls with a group of a very diverse school superintendents that represent metro, urban, suburban, rural areas across our state to ask them their thoughts on when could you think you could go back? What is ideal for them? Kind of measuring where people’s spring breaks are for systems, and they’re different, but they’re fairly close.
Brian Kemp: (42:59)
Measuring those type things, and then looking at what the end of the school year looks like. If the kids can come back, if this virus gets shut down by the people of the great state of Georgia. And really after all that conversations, there’s a lot of different thoughts. The school districts are much like our cities across the state. Atlanta’s certainly different from Dublin or from Homerville, and after talking with them, I really came up with this decision because I felt like it gives us enough time to really see where the virus is going to go. I think one of the things that Dr. Toomey and I’ve talked about so much is the data that we’re seeing today is two weeks old. The data that we’re going to see two weeks from now is going to be what really happened today, and that’s just the nature of this.
Brian Kemp: (43:49)
We’ve seen it in China, South Korea, Italy, and we’re certainly seeing it in other parts of the country and across the United States today. And I just felt like that gives us enough time where we’re not moving too fast. We got to have some leave time for our school leaders to be able to ramp up, get the teachers back in a few days before the students, and I just felt like the date we set would allow us to do that. And hopefully we’re on the backside of this virus. We want parents to be comfortable sending their children back to kids. We want our teachers that are going to be working in that environment and our administrators to be comfortable that they can go into that environment, and they’re not going to be adversely affected by the coronavirus. And that’s what really led me to the decision today.
Patricia Murphy: (44:36)
All right, and do you have any insight into the state standards that students may still be expected to meet if they’re not going back to school in the spring?
Brian Kemp: (44:43)
Yeah, I think these decisions have all been made along with our State School Superintendent Richard Woods. I appreciate his work, the State School Board, all the local boards and local leaders that have weighed in. Superintendent Woods has taken some action in regards to our school. We have signed executive orders to do a lot of-
Brian Kemp: (45:03)
… arts our school. We have signed executive orders to do a lot of different things to deal with this crisis. Whether it’s the Department of Labor and Unemployment insurance claims and other things. But Superintendent Woods has taken action on that and I think it was the right move at the right time. This is unprecedented. Our state’s never had to deal with something like this, but I can promise the citizens and the kids of our state that we’re going to continue to collaborate. Not only with state leaders, but with our local partners to see how we address this and make sure that our kids are doing everything that they can between now and the summer break.
Brian Kemp: (45:37)
And I want to applaud our educators for what they’re doing with distance learning. And how hard are our bus drivers and lunch room workers and all the folks at the local level, how hard they’re working to get meals out to kids. Because many kids are not getting meals if they’re not getting them from school. And there are some great work going on across our state with those folks.
And governor earlier today, we learned that a state uninsurance claims have doubled just in the last week alone. So many people when they lose their job, they also lose their health insurance. Do you have any plans to expand Medicaid to help those Georgians who lose their health insurance continue, to have coverage while they’re out of work, during this crisis?
Brian Kemp: (46:18)
Well the whole Medicaid argument would be a legislative question. Obviously with the legislature suspended that is not an issue that I’ve been focused on. I think the good thing is the nation’s governors, and I was on a call today with the president, the vice president, the whole many members of the task force, Secretary Mnuchin. I talked to Secretary Esper today. I talked to Secretary Azar a couple of other days.
Brian Kemp: (46:42)
It is unprecedented the level of communication that we’re having with the toppest layers of government all the way up to the president. They have been listening in a bipartisan way to the nation’s governors about what we need to deal with this healthcare crisis that we all have going on in our states. Many of us in different phases. I’m in a very different phase than Governor Cuomo in New York or Governor Newsom out in California.
Brian Kemp: (47:11)
But we all know that we’re going to see more cases. We’re going to have hotspots like we have in our state that we’re dealing with. And we’ve got great teams that are on the ground doing that. But I just think that they’ve accounted for a lot of that. There’s billions of dollars in the budget for our hospitals. There’s billions of dollars for the states. And this is one of the thing I actually spoke directly to the president about in the call before today’s call. And asked that they give block grant money to the state so we could put that money where we need it.
Brian Kemp: (47:44)
Nobody knows where to do that more than the nation’s governors do because we’re on the front lines of this crisis. And Georgians can know that we continue to work with the State Appropriations Chairman and the legislative leaders, Speaker Rost, Lieutenant Governor Duncan and many other people to make sure that we’re looking at those issues. And then we had the ability to be flexible, to pay for our Medicaid program and take care of all Georgians during this crisis.
Brian Kemp: (48:12)
And I want to again thank all those on the front lines of the healthcare battlefield. Our doctors, and nurses, and EMTS, and lab technicians, and just everyone that’s working so hard to fight this virus.
Well, thank you Governor Kemp for your time. We now join Russ Spencer with WAGATV. Russ. I know your team has also been reaching out to viewers for their questions for the governor as well.
Russ Spencer: (48:37)
Patricia, thank you very much. And Governor, thank you for doing this.
Brian Kemp: (48:41)
Russ Spencer: (48:41)
Yes, we certainly have. And the overwhelming number of questions, Governor have been specifically about this question of a statewide lockdown. I know you’ve answered it before, but what do you say to Seel and Woodstock who says, “My husband has a compromised immune system as do many fellow Georgians and not taking this stance immediately is irresponsible of our governor who I voted for.”
Russ Spencer: (49:00)
What do you say to Seel and to those who are watching tonight who think that the media and Democrats are blowing this out of proportion?
Brian Kemp: (49:06)
Well, I have great appreciation. I’ve heard obviously from a lot of Georgians, I continue to do that. That’s one reason part of the order I had on Monday was to focus to that most at risk population. Those 65 and older, the medically fragile. It is up to all Georgians, including myself.
Brian Kemp: (49:25)
I’ve done this with my own mother telling her, “You need to stay at home, don’t go out. It would be just not a good thing to do.” By her staying at home and other elderly or medically fragile folks staying at home, it will lessen the burden on our hospitals. Especially our ICU is the number of ventilators that we need. It’s basically equipment prevention that we would need in the future if we can keep people, especially that population out of the hospital. They are adversely affected.
Brian Kemp: (49:57)
But I’m also having to balance that with, in Jeff Davis County I know of two days ago they didn’t even have a single case down there. And you have people saying, “Look, we need to be working. I’m worried about losing my home. I’m worried about getting meals for my kids.” And so those are the kinds of things that we’re balancing.
Brian Kemp: (50:16)
But all of this is to focus on the public health of our citizens. And the things that I knew that we needed to do from a statewide perspective on Monday was protecting the medically fragile and the elderly. Making sure that we were closing down bars and nightclubs. I think I may have said restaurants earlier and I misspoke. But it was bars and nightclubs because that’s where we had large groups of people gathering.
Brian Kemp: (50:39)
And then also making sure that we’re not having large events in our state, over 10 people. You’ve got to socially distance. If you can’t do that, you do not need to hold any kind of large event. And I know that’s tough in the faith community. I’ve wrestled with that very much. But our faith leaders who, I was on a call this week with almost 800 faith leaders across our state, making sure that they knew how serious this is. Dr.Toomey spoke to them as well. I asked him to do online services. There’s some creative pastors out there that are doing… people used to go to the drive in theater, now people are going to drive in church. They’re staying in the cars, still holding the services, but they’re practicing the social distancing.
Brian Kemp: (51:22)
So I think we’ve targeted the areas that we need to target if we need to do more in the future. I certainly have that tool still in the toolbox.
Russ Spencer: (51:32)
All right, Governor thank you very much. I’ll turn it over now to Cheryl Preheim from WXIA. Cheryl.
Cheryl Preheim: (51:41)
Thank you. Because of a limited number of testing in our state Governor, you have said that the priority will be people at risk over 60 years old, our health care workers as well. But I have a question from a doctor Decatur saying, “I’m sick certain. I have COVID-19 but I cannot get a test. If I as a frontline medical worker can’t get a test. How can others?” Have you asked the federal government to send Georgia more tests?
Brian Kemp: (52:09)
Well, Dr. Toomey may want to respond to that. It would be my take on it that that individual is absolutely the person that we need to be testing. They should call the hotline or get to Dr. Toomey’s office or our office and we will talk to them about getting that done.
Brian Kemp: (52:25)
I know there’s been a high level of frustration with testing including with myself and with our task force. And I promise the people this day we are doing everything in our power to ramp up testing. You can see that we have through our numbers with 23 mobile testing sites right now. And every governor, our country has asked for more testing. And there’s some unprecedented things that are going on right now. I believe we’ve tested in the United States now more than any other country was what the president was saying today.
Brian Kemp: (52:56)
I said earlier, I talked to somebody earlier today that’s really got something neat they we’re trying to make happen in our state. I hope we can get that done. But those things continue to wrap up daily. I think Georgians says they see the cases go up and the number of testing go up that will be proved to be true. And I don’t know if Dr. Toomey has the ability to answer but she may want to weigh in.
Cheryl Preheim: (53:20)
Kimberly’s asking, “Please ask Governor Kemp why he has not yet put a protection from loss of jobs for caregivers of high risk groups.” She says, “If I can’t go to work, I lose my job. I care for my father who has serious medical conditions. I have three children who are home because schools are closed. Yet again, if I don’t go to work, then I don’t have a job to go back.” To a lot of people in very difficult times here, Governor.
Brian Kemp: (53:44)
Oh no doubt about it. And look, I’m very empathetic to those individuals. I’ve been a small business person for over 30 years. There’s been tough things that I’ve been through. Tough times I couldn’t pay myself and I was paying the hard working Georgians that work for me. Because I knew if I didn’t do that, they couldn’t buy groceries, they couldn’t pay their rent. We have an unprecedented amount of people across our country right now that just in a matter of days have had that happen to them. That literally tugs on me every single day as well as these really tough decisions that myself and members of the task force are trying to tackle from a healthcare perspective.
Brian Kemp: (54:24)
I can promise you we are doing everything within our power in the state. I’ve signed executive orders, I’ve been working hand in hand with our labor commissioner, Mark Butler. Who’s presented some great ideas to us on the unemployment insurance. That is part of the package that we have talked to the president and the vice president about. It’s part of the stimulus package that I’ve discussed with our US Senators and congressional delegation to urge their support to help work in Georgians that, as is said, many times by no fault of their own have lost their job, been laid off or in a position where they cannot work right now. And this is a time where we all got to pull together and support those individuals. We’ll do everything that we can with the power of the state government. But the federal government. I’m hoping tomorrow we’ll get that package passed and help will be on the way. I’m told as early as April the sixth.
Cheryl Preheim: (55:23)
Governor, thank you so much. I’ll pass it off now to Shawn Gables.
Shawn Gables: (55:30)
Governor, we have less than 30 seconds. This will be the last question. Michelle Nolde Beltzhoover sent this question and to CBS 46. “Will you commit to forcing employers to pay for paid time off to curb the rate of infection? And find the companies who lay off or fire employees who become sick or do not come in due to risk to themselves or even to their families?”
Brian Kemp: (55:51)
Well, I’ll just say I’m very pleased with our business community, and corporations, and companies, and small business owners across our state have responded to this. Some incredible things going on. Our department of economic development is working with a lot of our private sector company folks to retool and revamp to help make the supplies that we need on the front line of this healthcare crisis.
Brian Kemp: (56:16)
I can promise you that there’s a lot of support out there for them. But I think that is exactly what the federal package is designed to be doing. That’s something that we have pushed for. I have myself and the nation’s governors have because we know that our people are hurting right now and we’ve got to continue to fight for them. And I’m very hopeful that that help will be on the way very shortly if we can get the vote done in the US Congress tomorrow.
Shawn Gables: (56:41)
Governor Kim, thank you for your time. Jovina back to you.
All right Sean, thank you. Governor thank you as well and Dr. Toomey and the rest of the task force for spending this time with us. And providing us with some important information tonight. A reminder to please follow the social distancing guidelines, follow your city or your county shelter in place, orders that have come down this week. And take all the precautions you can including thorough hand washing and again, social distancing.
So on behalf of all of my colleagues here at WSBTV and all of the stations that you saw here participating tonight, we certainly hope that you and your family stay safe and stay healthy. As the governor said, we are all in this together. And once again, here’s the number for the Georgia Department of Public Health hotline. It’s 844-422-2681. 844-442-26981. Call this number before you go to your doctor. Stay healthy.
Speaker 4: (57:39)
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