Apr 20, 2020
Governor Brian Kemp Georgia COVID-19 Briefing Transcript April 20
Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia held an April 20 press conference on coronavirus. He announced a plan to reopen some businesses as early as Friday, including gyms, bowling alleys, barbers, hair salons, and massage businesses. Read the full transcript of his news conference here.
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Governor Brian Kemp: (16:08)
All right. Well, good afternoon, everyone. Today I’m joined by or join with the Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, Speaker David Ralston, General Tom Carden, Dr. Toomey and GEMA Director Homer Bryson. First of all, I want to let all those Georgians know that experienced some rough weather last night, that we certainly have them in our thoughts and prayers. Certainly wasn’t near as bad as the weekend before, but nevertheless we did have folks that had homes damaged and other tragic things happen as well as a loss of power.
Governor Brian Kemp: (16:43)
So, we’ll certainly keep them in our thoughts and prayers and certainly appreciate the whole Georgia team working with the locals on the response over night and this morning. As of noon today, we now have 18,947 COVID-19 cases in Georgia with 733 deaths. The state lab has processed 5,362 tests and commercial vendors have processed 78,966 tests. We understand that these are more than just numbers. These are Georgians that we’re talking about. They’re our families and they’re our communities that are impacted and certainly all of the victims and their loved ones continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.
Governor Brian Kemp: (17:31)
We lift all those up who are battling this terrible virus. We remain focused on the safety and wellbeing of every person who calls Georgia home. Last week, the White House issued guidelines for states to begin safely reopening nation’s economy. We appreciate the leadership and share in the president’s desire to reopen the economy and get Americans back to work. And as a small business owner for over 30 years, I know the impact that this pandemic has had on hard working Georgians in every zip code and in every community across our state.
Governor Brian Kemp: (18:13)
With heightened supply and limited demand, crops are rotting and our farmers continue to struggle to keep employees on the payroll. Our small business owners are seeing sales plummet in the company that they built with them with the blood, sweat and tears is literally disappearing right in front of them. Our contract workers are struggling to put food on the table. Large businesses which serve as anchors in many Georgia towns are scaling back operations, leaving some with reduced hours and others with no job. These are tough moments in our state and our nation.
Governor Brian Kemp: (18:57)
I hear the concerns of those that I’m honored to serve. I see the terrible impact of COVID-19 on public health as well as the pocket book. Informed by the coronavirus task force and public health officials, opening up America again includes three phases to safely reopen and get folks back to work. To initiate phase one, a state must meet a series of basic criteria which can be tailored to reflect specific circumstances for a region or a statewide approach. For weeks now our state has taken targeted action to prevent, detect and address the spread of coronavirus by leveraging data and advice from health officials in the public and private sectors.
Governor Brian Kemp: (19:49)
Thanks to this methodical approach and the millions of Georgians who have literally worked diligently to slow the spread of the coronavirus, we are on track to meet the gating criteria for phase one. According to the Department of Public Health, reports of emergency room visits for flu-like illnesses are declining, documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and appear to be declining and we have seen declining emergency room visits in general. By expanding our hospital bed capacity including the temporary facility at the Georgia World Congress Center, we have the ability to treat patients without crisis care in hospital settings.
Governor Brian Kemp: (20:35)
Our proactive actions have reduced stress and strain on our area hospitals as well as the communities and the families that they serve. Now, a key component of the gating criteria is testing. For weeks, I’ve expressed my frustration with the status of testing and committed more resources to expansion. We have partnered with the University System of Georgia, partnered with the private sector at all for drive through services and recently empowered public health departments across Georgia to offer testing for all symptomatic individuals and specific asymptomatic individuals.
Governor Brian Kemp: (21:16)
Today, we’re taking that effort to a different level by announcing an even broader partnership with the state’s dedicated health sciences university and its health system to double down on our testing capacity and meet the requirements necessary to move forward with the president’s plan. As many of you know, Augusta University Health launched a telemedicine app as part of their comprehensive plan to screen, test and treat Georgia patients through an algorithm designed by medical experts at the Medical College of Georgia.
Governor Brian Kemp: (21:54)
This app has enhanced public health while reducing exposure for our doctors, nurses and medical staff. We are encouraging symptomatic-
Governor Brian Kemp: (22:03)
…nurses and medical staff. We are encouraging symptomatic Georgians and asymptomatic individuals on the front lines or in longterm care facilities to download this app this week and begin the screening process. Georgians can access the app by visiting augustahealth.org or downloading AU Health ExpressCare on your smart phone. You can also call (706) 721-1852. This free app is user friendly and through this app, physicians and advanced practice providers from Augusta University Health and the Medical College of Georgia are available to users 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you begin to display symptoms consistent with COVID-19, day or night, you can log in to the AAU Health telemedicine app or call and get screened by clinician. If you meet the criteria for testing, staff will contact you to schedule a test at one of the state’s designated testing locations near your home. Your healthcare information will be securely transmitted to your designated testing site.
Governor Brian Kemp: (23:21)
This streamline process reduces stress on both the patient and the testing site workers. Once you arrive for your appointment, you will provide a specimen for testing. From there, we will leverage the power of several key academic institutions in this state to process these tests. These include Augusta University, Emory University, Georgia State University, and the Georgia Public Health Lab. In roughly 72 hours, you will be able to access your test results via a secure patient portal and a medical provider will contact you directly if you are positive. The clinician will assist you with enrolling in a self-reporting app by Google named MTX, where, with patient consent, the Department of Public Health can use enhanced contact monitoring and tracing. Through this partnership, Augusta University will produce testing swabs in the Dental College of Georgia Innovation Lab. By using the same 3D printers that have produced face seals for our healthcare workers, the Innovation Lab will create thousands of swabs per day. This capacity greatly reduces our dependence on vendors and government entities as we boost testing and get Georgians back into the workplace.
Governor Brian Kemp: (24:49)
Under the leadership of President Brooks Keel, CEO Katrina Keefer, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phillip Coule, General Carden, and Dr. Toomey, Augusta University will roll out this app statewide over the course of this week. My office will release more details and timelines very soon. In addition, the National Guard will mobilize 10 new strike teams to deploy to hotspots and longterm care facilities to administer 1500 tests per day. Testing expansions through Augusta university and the Guard will compliment existing initiatives including the Department of Public Health’s capacity, Georgia Tech’s CVS testing site, and our private labs.
Governor Brian Kemp: (25:38)
As I’ve said before, testing defines the battlefield and informs our longterm strategy. These efforts significantly increase our capacity as we take measured steps forward. Throughout this entire process, from creating the coronavirus task force to today, we have relied on data, science, and the advice of healthcare professionals to guide our approach and decision making. We have been surgical, targeted and methodical, always putting the health and wellbeing of our citizens first and doing our best to protect lives and livelihoods in every part of our state.
Governor Brian Kemp: (26:22)
In the same way that we carefully closed businesses and urged operations to end to mitigate the virus spread, today we are announcing plans to incrementally and safely reopen sectors of our economy. To help in this battle against COVID-19, healthcare facilities across Georgia voluntarily paused elective surgeries to reduce equipment and personnel shortages. This selfless act by healthcare leaders enhanced our ability to keep Georgians safe. However, many now find themselves in a difficult financial situation, some losing millions of dollars a day as they sacrifice for the greater good. This is not sustainable long term for these facilities.
Governor Brian Kemp: (27:13)
Given the recent changes in modeling as it relates to surge capacity and national supply as the needs of other states diminished and following weeks of discussions with hospital leaders and medical providers, I believe Georgia is positioned to secure the necessary personal protective equipment for healthcare facilities to resume elective surgeries deemed essential. Hospitals should continue discussions in their regions to ensure patient safety and the safety of their workforce, making sure that is a priority.
Governor Brian Kemp: (27:51)
I want to applaud all the hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, doctor’s offices, dental offices, physical therapists, and healthcare professionals that answered the call of duty and voluntarily closed their doors. It is impossible for me to adequately express my grateful appreciation to you all. And to all of the Georgians who waited on getting an important procedure to allow us to get to the other side of this curve, I also would like to thank you. Your sacrifice literally helped us save lives.
Governor Brian Kemp: (28:32)
Given the favorable data, enhanced testing ,and approval of our health care professionals, we will allow gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists to reopen their doors this Friday, April the 24th. Unlike other businesses, these entities have been unable to manage inventory, deal with payroll, and take care of administrative items while we shelter in place. This measure allows them to undertake baseline operations that most other businesses in the state have maintained since I issued this, the shelter in place order. This measure will apply statewide and will be the operational standard in all jurisdictions. This means local action cannot be taken that is more or less restrictive.
Governor Brian Kemp: (29:40)
Over the next few days, we will continue to closely monitor existing and potential hotspots in our state. I stay in regular contact with local leaders across Georgia, especially those in Dougherty County and surrounding counties, to ensure that we are providing adequate support. Right now, in Albany and Dougherty County, we are seeing great improvement. I talk to Commission Chair Chris Cohilas on a regular basis to ask if further action is warranted. And rest assured, if any community needs the state to intervene, we will do so with their input as well as their partnership.
Governor Brian Kemp: (30:24)
Now, the next point is a very important one. The entities which I’m reopening are not reopening as business as usual. Each of these entities will be subject to specific restrictions including adherence to the minimum basic operations, social distancing, and regular sanitation. Minimum basic operations includes but is not limited to screening workers for fever and respiratory illness, enhancing workplace sanitation, wearing gloves and mask if appropriate, separating workspaces by at least six feet and teleworking where at all possible, and implementing staggered shifts.
Governor Brian Kemp: (31:11)
Subject to the specific social distancing and sanitation mandates, theaters, private social clubs, and restaurant dining services will be allowed to reopen on Monday, April the 27th. We will release more information over the next few days. Bars, nightclubs, operators of amusement park rides and live performance venues will remain closed. In the days ahead we will be evaluating the data and conferring with public health officials to determine the best course of action for those establishments. By taking this measured action, we will get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress that we all have made in this battle against COVID-19.
Governor Brian Kemp: (32:04)
Today’s announcement is a small step forward and should be treated as such. The shelter in place order is still active and will expire at 11:59 PM on April the 30th for most Georgians. We urge everyone to continue to follow CDC and DPH guidance by sheltering in place as often as you can. Limit your travel and limit who goes with you on errands to prevent potential exposure. If possible, wear a mask or covered clothing when you’re in public to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Governor Brian Kemp: (32:41)
For the medically fragile and elderly Georgians, make plans to shelter in place through May the 13th, the date George’s public health emergency expires. Given the heightened risk of adverse consequences from your exposure to coronavirus, this is recommended and the safest path forward. We will release more details as we near the end of the month so the medically fragile and elderly Georgians will have adequate time to prepare. I want to continue to call on all my fellow Georgians to protect our elderly. Limit your direct contact and help them navigate the weeks ahead as I have been doing with my mom during this time to ensure that she doesn’t have to go out. I urge Georgians, all Georgians, to do the same for your loved ones and your neighbors if you are able. Do what you can to help those in need.
Governor Brian Kemp: (33:42)
For places of worship, holding in-person services is allowed, but under the Phase I guidelines, it must be done in accordance with strict social distancing protocols. I urge faith leaders to continue to help us in this effort to keep their congregation safe by heeding the advice of public health officials. Of course, online, call-in, and drive-in services remains a good option for religious institutions. I do want to thank all of the faith leaders across this state who have stepped up and put their congregations and their state many times in front of their own institutions, for the greater good. I’m so thankful for you all and I know many of you that is a painful decision that you had to make and I know that financially it is tough as well. I feel that pain myself, but I want to thank you and encourage you to do the right thing and to help us continue to fight the coronavirus. I also realize that there are people that want to go back to in-person services. And if you do, just make sure you are following the advice and the guidelines. I’ve spoken to many who are already implementing those policies and we’re glad to help you in that fight.
Governor Brian Kemp: (35:14)
While I’m encouraged by the data, proud of what we have accomplished and confident that our plan moving forward, I know that the journey ahead is going to be a long one. We must remain laser-focused on defeating this virus and keeping our citizens safe. We must find ways to revitalize communities that have literally been devastated by COVID-19. We must identify opportunities for economic growth and prosperity. We will have to have tough conversations about the budget, state spending, and our priorities and values as a state.
Governor Brian Kemp: (35:54)
Those conversations are underway, but here’s what I know. If we remain united, just as we have in this fight against COVID-19, we can overcome the challenges and the obstacles that are ahead of us. But if we allow politics, partisanship, elections, and egos to divide us during this important inflection point, our entire state will suffer. So as we begin this process, this measured, deliberate step forward, let’s reaffirm our commitment to one another, to the greater good and to Georgia’s future. Because I am confident that together we will emerge victorious from this war that we have been fighting. And with your help and God’s grace, we will continue to build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous state for our families and our generations to come.
Governor Brian Kemp: (36:52)
Thank you all, god bless you, and it’s my honor to turn the podium over to Lieutenant Governor Jeff Dunkin to make a few remarks. And he’ll turn it over to the Speaker and I want to thank both of these gentlemen for a great partnership, for their support and for also being with us today. Thank you. Lieutenant Governor.
Lieutenant Gov : (37:14)
Thank you, Governor Kemp. I want to start by thanking you for your consistent leadership through this entire COVID-19 crisis that we’re continuing to deal with. Your team has communicated well to the General Assembly. Just want to thank you very much for that consistent leadership that you’ve shown us. Also want to thank many of the departments and agencies that are working so hard right now to continue to keep the health and well-being of so many Georgians in their focus. And I want to personally thank Director Homer Bryson and Dr. Toomey for your great efforts as we move forward through this process. Also want to thank millions of Georgians, millions of Georgians who are personally sacrificing so much right now for the better good, your families, your communities, your businesses, your education. I want to personally thank so many of those people in Georgia for their personal sacrifice throughout this pandemic.
Lieutenant Gov : (38:04)
I’ve spent a good bit of time over the last four weeks trying to understand some of the additional issues and concerns that have arisen during this process, not just the healthcare crisis around COVID-19, but things like foster care and the unintended consequences of the aging-out process. I want to thank the Governor and his team for accepting our letter of recommendation around the additional opportunities that things that we can do around foster care.
Lieutenant Gov : (38:28)
Also want to address mental health as we all know in our communities, it continues to be a growing issue. I want to encourage and urge everybody who is suffering from mental depression or mental illness right now to reach out for a friend, reach out for your community resources or state resources to understand that this too will pass.
Lieutenant Gov : (38:49)
Another area of concern for us is continuing to look at the budget. As we focus in on the fiscal year 2021 budget, it’s hard to imagine how much that vision has changed since just a few short weeks ago here when we were back in the General Assembly. I am additionally saddened by the passing of a great friend of mine and a great friend of the State of Georgia. Senator Jack Hill has unexpectedly passed away just a few short weeks ago. And we now have a new Appropriations Chairman in Senator Blake Tillery. We continue to work closely with the governor with the house to understand the budget process as we move forward.
Lieutenant Gov : (39:29)
In preparation for today and an ongoing process that the governor highlighted about bringing Georgia back online, getting folks back to work, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last 10 days talking to CEOs of some of the largest companies here in Georgia and also small business owners in every corner of the state to understand, what can we better understand about your business with your industry? What can we do better as a state? And it’s been encouraging to hear the input from so many different businesses and industries because no business or industry is going to come out of this crisis exactly the same. I think it’s important to lean heavily on to innovation and to lean onto those businesses to come up with those best strategies forward. I was encouraged through those 10 days of calls to hear them continuing to be respectful and grateful for the governor’s leadership throughout this entire process. We continue to hear great ideas come forward and continue to work closely with the governor on trying to execute these best strategies to move forward. As a result of my phone calls and conversations with these business leaders, I will be delivering to the governor an executive summary of those for his consideration as we move forward.
Lieutenant Gov : (40:40)
The last, but not least, I want to thank is those on the front lines, our first responders, our medical professionals and our teachers, and those that are helping us get through this crisis. I’m proud to be a Georgian and this too will pass. At this time. I’d like to bring forward the Speaker of the House David Ralston to make some comments.
David Ralston: (41:05)
Thank you very much, Lieutenant Governor Dunkin and to Governor Kemp. I want to begin by joining with the Lieutenant Governor in expressing my appreciation to Governor Kemp for his tireless commitment to battling this war for many, many weeks now. I know that it’s a job from which there’s not a day off, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed. And I wanted to say thank you on behalf of many grateful Georgians. Also to Dr. Toomey and to Director Bryson, whose performances have really made me proud to be a Georgian. So thank you all very, very much for what y’all have done. And to General Carden and all of our national guardsmen.
David Ralston: (41:58)
So many people are working so hard against what I call a monster, the monster of the coronavirus that has upended lives and has really changed life for Georgians in ways that we will never fully grasp. We will never get back to normal, but we will find a new and better normal. Because, as we are here today, we are here to take steps toward reopening the state. And, as the governor said, these are measured, balanced steps. They don’t go as far as some would like, but I think they go as far as we can responsibly go at this time. And I think that I have struck a good balance between putting people back to work.
David Ralston: (42:54)
This virus really is touching lives of many, many, many Georgians. I was reflecting as I was listening, that somewhere in this state this afternoon, there are many Georgia families, many business owners that are fearful about what lies ahead, fearful about watching their business go away that they have devoted a lifetime to, fearful of not having a job, fearful of how they’re going to take care of their children. There are other Georgians who are probably getting the news this afternoon that a loved one has died alone. This is touching so many people so deeply, but I think that we have taken measures today, and I want to applaud the governor for these steps. They are small steps, but they are responsible steps for a problem that you can’t solve with a slogan or a bumper sticker.
Speaker Ralston: (44:03)
… with a slogan or a bumper sticker expression. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s going to take following the science and following the data. And I think that’s what we have done to the best of our ability in this. And so as Georgians, it is important that we stay together. The community I live in has embraced the slogan “stronger together.” And that’s truly what we have to embrace as an entire state, is that we will only be stronger if we are together. So may God bless all of you, and may God bless the great state of Georgia. Thank you very much.
Governor Brian Kemp: (44:50)
Well, thank you so much Speaker Ralston and Lieutenant Governor Duncan for being here today, but also for your strong support, and we look forward to continuing to work with you as we fight this enemy and also work on the budget and getting our economy back to the great place it was before all this happened. I had a call today with the vice president and the nation’s governors, and the vice president called on me to give an update on what our national guard’s doing. And I think our state can be proud of what General Carden and his team is doing to help get food to the needy across our state, to sanitize our longterm care facilities and many other facilities, training people in those sanitation practices and protocols to stay safe in those environments, working with our prisons, working with industries, food processing industries, and also training other states. So we’re very proud of what the national guard’s doing. And General Carden’s going to talk about a new mission that he’s been working on the last few days. General Carden.
General Carden: (46:05)
Thank you very much, governor. Certainly proud of your, Georgia National Guard, and the things that governor just mentioned. As of today, we have sanitized more than 523 longterm care facilities in Georgia. That brings us to 66% of the 790 longterm care facilities in our state, and it’s our honor to make those most vulnerable among us a little bit safer. With respect to the new mission, the governor asked us last week… And in fact it was a directive. It didn’t come in the form of a question. He wanted us to partner with both GEMA and the department of public health and academia to bring those teams together and see what we could do to increase testing. And the governor covered the most important tenets of improving testing in Georgia. So at the end of the day, this program involves a couple of strategic initiative, one of which is a 24/7 operation center that’ll be run out of Augusta University, and that will serve as Governor Kemp’s unblinking eye on coronavirus.
General Carden: (47:08)
And what it does is it enables workflow. It manages logistics. It works very closely with the department of public health and all those initiatives that are currently underway to bring it all together and make sure that we’re sharing information and increasing both situational awareness and situational understanding across the agencies and across academia. The governor also mentioned our mobile strike teams, 10 of which we stood up on Friday. Over the weekend we tested 963 Georgians in our longterm care facilities and among our law enforcement and first responder community. Today we intend to test 1,500 Georgians in similarly disposed areas across our state. We can scale that up very quickly, and we’re only limited by the number of tests that are available to us. And so as we link those initiatives together, we’ll be able to paint the picture, if you will, for our governor, for our state leadership, and particularly for Dr. Toomey and her department as we fight Coronavirus.
General Carden: (48:15)
Now, I’ll tell you one thing that I’ve learned about this, not being a medical professional, is that testing is not a cure. And testing is certainly not easy, but one thing that I’m clear on is this is a priority to our governor, and it’s a priority to our GEMA director and to our public health officials and to our state leaders. We’re going to work together. We have seen what happens in this state when public, private, and academia, when those partnerships come together and everybody’s rowing in the same directions, many great things happen to make Georgia safer. I can assure you that we’ll not fail you in this endeavor. Thank you very much, governor.
Governor Brian Kemp: (48:56)
All right. Thank you General Carden. Appreciate all of your folks’ team to see out there every day, almost 3,000 Georgians that are in that force doing all this different work. You’ve certainly gotten Georgians’ attention, but you’ve gotten the nation’s attention as well, so job well done. With that, part of the next battle of our fight is going to be something that Dr. Toomey’s going to talk about this afternoon. Dr. Toomey.
Dr. Toomey: (49:26)
Good afternoon. When the president talked about the steps that we needed to take to ensure that we as a nation could fight this virus, he said we have to have adequate hospital capacity, we have to have adequate testing, and we have to have adequate contact tracing to ensure we can identify not only the cases through testing, but every person, every situation where these individuals have been to ensure we can stop spread in the community. We have now reached that point in the spread of this outbreak in Georgia. We must begin that aggressively. You may have heard this term before. It’s an old public health term. When we have measles outbreaks, we do contact tracing and investigations in where those cases occurred and who those cases might have come in contact with. It’s really a foundation of public health practice for many infectious diseases, including things like tuberculosis.
Dr. Toomey: (50:23)
The difference here for COVID is because so many individuals are infected. Already with the thousands of cases we have, we’ve already surpassed by manyfold the number of notifiable diseases of all types that we have had reported to us this year alone. And so it’s literally going to take a village for us to work together to do this. And I wanted to tell you how this was being structured. Our epidemiology team at the state office are the incident commanders for this. They are already beginning training and putting together training videos so they can train not only staff in the districts, but also volunteers to help us do this. You may have seen that other states have been able to enlist others in the community to help. We are actually aggressively reaching out to our university systems who have many people, MPH students, medical students, who are not now in classes, who will join with us and help us with contact tracing throughout the state.
Dr. Toomey: (51:31)
When we get this information about a new individual who’s infected with COVID-19, we will reach out to them, talk to them, and find out not only with whom they may be living and coming in regular contact, but where have they gone? Where have they been shopping? Where have they been out in the community, that we can try to address those exposures? And ordinarily in the past we have done this manually with just our staff keeping monitor of this through computer. Now with the wonders of Google and Google apps, we actually have a computer-based app to help us with that. We are working on finalizing that in the week ahead. It’s being customized to our own needs to be able to not only put individuals’ names in and monitor them, but also have them help us identify additional contacts that we may not know. And so working together in partnership with volunteers in the community as well as our statewide public health team, this has really shifted to become our priority focus in the weeks ahead.
Dr. Toomey: (52:43)
This is the way we’re going to stop the virus. This is the way we’re going to keep spread from occurring, even as we begin to gradually open up the state. That is contact tracing for COVID-19, a little bit different, a little more aggressive, and now with additional tools than we have for other infections like tuberculosis, but incredibly important at this stage where we are in the state. And before I sit down, I just wanted to mention one thing that I know you’re going to ask me about, so I want to be proactive about it. You’re going to ask me what are the data that you’re looking at that allowed you to say that we are at the point where we can make this transition? Those data, those gating data were outlined by Dr. Birx a few days ago. We have put those data on our website, and we will continue to post those daily. And what you can see is that in terms of COVID cases, particularly when you look at the rolling total, which smooths out that curve, it makes it easier to analyze.
Dr. Toomey: (53:51)
We definitely have a plateauing and what appears to be now a decline, and by the end of the week, and certainly by the end of the shelter in place, that will be two-week decline that’s required to remove the shelter in place, more than a two-week decline, frankly, to remove the shelter in place. Our emergency department visits have been reduced to almost nothing by our surveillance system, and that’s really a remarkable situation I think that reflects the fact that we’ve advised people do not go to emergency rooms and go to other providers or use telehealth with your providers rather than use emergency room for your care. And I wanted to point out that these will be on the web. They’ll be accessible to the public as well as to you to report on, and together with you we’ll be able to monitor those trends and if needs be do midcourse corrections in our plans as we move forward in the days ahead.
Dr. Toomey: (54:59)
The other thing I wanted you to know, although this was not one of the gating criteria, if you look at our report of deaths from COVID, they have declined dramatically. And I think that reflects not only the fact that we have the hospital capacity and have really worked hard to ensure we have the appropriate care for individuals with COVID-19, but also that we are reaching out and being more proactive in our efforts to identify people early in the course of their infection. And I think this is a really good sign that we are identifying individuals and ensuring that they get the care they need before they reach a stage of disease where they are very, very sick. And we are expanding testing, and under General Carden’s leadership, we’ll be working together with him to ensure that throughout the state testing is widely available to everyone. Thank you very much.
Governor Brian Kemp: (56:06)
All right. I think we’ll do some questions if anybody’s got them, and obviously anybody that was up here, including Homer, is glad to answer any questions you guys may have.
Speaker 2: (56:16)
Yeah, governor, some public health experts are already warning that lifting restrictions could trigger more outbreaks. You’ve outlined plans to expand testing, but are you confident Georgia has enough testing capacity to safely reopen without risking another wave? And what do you say to epidemiologists’ worry that this could lead to another cycle of closings and openings later on this year?
Governor Brian Kemp: (56:36)
Well, first of all, I would just say a lot of people were given that warning before they even knew what we were planning on doing today. So I don’t know if they had something different in their mind about this was just going to do away with the shelter in place and it was going to do away with the minimum basic operations that we have, the 20 plus criteria guidelines that we have. So I would just urge them to look at the plan we have and also heed the remarks that Dr. Toomey made. I didn’t do this unilaterally. I talked to Dr. Toomey and many, many other people about these measured approaches that we’re taking today. I think our citizens are ready for this. They’ve learned a lot into this. Dr. Toomey and I were just talking about this, a matter of fact. People know what social distancing is. They’re learning what mitigation was when we went through it and we’re still trying to do, and we talked today before we came out. They’re fixing to learn a lot more about contact tracing, which is a big part of the next step.
Governor Brian Kemp: (57:43)
So I think this is the right approach at the right time. It’s not just throwing the keys back to these business owners. We’re talking about people that the government shut down their business. Unlike many other businesses that have been operating under these same platforms the whole time the shelter in place was going on, we’re now going to allow these businesses that were closed to do the same thing. And we didn’t turn them all back on. We felt like it was appropriate to delay the in-dining restaurants a few more days and turn them back on Monday versus this Friday. They need time to prepare, order food, hire workers, but also think that gives us more time to continue to flatten the curve, make sure that the industry has time. And I know we’ve talked to them. They’re working on ideas for how they can take care of their customers.
Governor Brian Kemp: (58:37)
And listen, the private sector is going to have to convince the public that it’s safe to come back into these businesses. And we’ve seen some very innovative people out there making those changes to their business practices. And that’s what barber’s going to have to do. It’s what a hair salon is going to have to do. It’s going to be what a tattoo parlor is going to have to do. But we’re talking about not large groups of people. We feel like the gyms and the fitness clubs can social distance, but they got to absolutely do stringent cleaning of the machines that people are using or whatever the exercise regime is. And we think that people will responsibly do that. If they don’t, then we have the ability to act on that like we have with the current order is. So I think we’re taking the right measured approach at the right time. The data that we’re seeing puts us into that category that Dr. Birx talked about in the president’s plan. And then we’ll continue to monitor the other things as we move forward and continue to get this virus on the further downward trend, which that is the direction it’s heading.
Governor Brian Kemp: (59:52)
Now, I will say that when we have more people moving around, we’re probably going to see our cases continue to go up, but we’re a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago. We have the hospital bed capacity. We have the community knowledge. We have a lot of things in place now, the ramped up testing we’re doing, the contact tracing that we’re going to be doing, and I believe we’ll be able to stay on top of it. But like I said in my remarks, if we have an instance where a community starts becoming a hot spot, then I will take further action, But right now feel like we’re in a good spot to move forward.
Speaker 3: (01:00:34)
Governor, can you talk about these announcements today regarding testing, how much more testing does that represent in numbers or percentage?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:00:42)
Well I may General Carden talk about testing because he’s been driving that train as well as Homer if he’s got anything to add. General.
General Carden: (01:00:56)
When we received the mission on testing last week, we were at 45 out of 54 states and territories. If you look at the data today, we’re right around 43 out of 54 states and territories. But that’s actually a lagging indicator. If you look at the leading indicator, it’s the acceleration that we had since last week. So if you compare us to other states with respect to acceleration in the last week, we’re at 28 out of 54 states and territories, and that will be significantly accelerated next week as we’ve now mobilized the mobile strike teams. We put this 24 seven operation center together to manage workflow, logistics, and the overall operation to not only paint the picture for the governor and the senior staff, the GEMA director and our department of public health, but what it also does for us is to make sure that there’s no logistics left on the table.
General Carden: (01:01:51)
We’ll only be limited by two things. We’ll be limited by the supply of test kits. I believe right now we can execute more test kits than we can get in right now. And I think the next place the supply line will break is with lab capacity. And so our desire of working together again, public, private and academia, is we want to stretch that lab capacity as much as we can, but we don’t have as much as we want. As I mentioned, it’s not easy to do Coronavirus testing. Trying to test almost 11 million people in the state of Georgia is like trying to boil the ocean. But what we need to do is make sure that the governor’s state leaders have enough testing at their disposal to make data informed decisions, and that’s the goal of the team we put together. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (01:02:37)
So is that another thousand, another two thousand?
General Carden: (01:02:39)
I’m going to tell you, my goal is to drive it until the system breaks. Right now we’re sitting at about 0.71 overall. If you look at the highest state in the country, and it’s really no comparison, it’s Rhode Island. We’ve got more people in Gwinnett County than Rhode Island has. And so they’re a little over 3% with respect to testing. And New York is obviously bigger than us. They had a hot spot much earlier than we did, much bigger, and more pronounced, and they’ve tested just more than 3% in New York. So what we’re trying to do is to make sure that we’re doing as much as we can do given logistics. I’d love to tell you that we’d like to put a mark on the wall and test 10% of the population in Georgia, but that’s not realistic. We’re going to test what we can source for.
Speaker 4: (01:03:27)
Governor Kemp, if you could for the sake of summary and clarification, exactly which businesses will be allowed to reopen on Friday? Which ones will be allowed to reopen on Monday? And I know under several restrictions. And then what’s the plan for everyone else after that and the timetable?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:03:44)
So on the last question first, the rest of the timeline for ramping back up, entertainment venues, concerts, we’re just going to continue to follow the data. I don’t have a target for that right now. The businesses really that’s opening up Monday as the dine-in restaurants. So that’s really a week from today. This Friday you’re talking about barber shops, hair salons, those businesses that had that personal contact, massage therapy places, the elective surgeries we mentioned, some of the schools for these individuals. I think I mentioned artist parlors, tattoo parlors, places that Dr. Toomey had advised me when we were in the throws of this that just that contact is not a good thing to be doing. But now that we have the medical facilities stood up, that we have the contact tracing piece stood up, that we’re doing a lot better job on testing and will be in the days ahead, people can go back to these activities as long as they’re following the guidelines that we have, which is that list of 20 things, cleaning.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:05:10)
I mean, obviously if somebody’s giving a haircut, it’s probably a good idea for them to be wearing a mask and do extra cleaning on that chair after the customer leaves, not packing the waiting room at a barber shop or a salon, but do appointment only, call people when they’re sitting in the car, and when a chair opens up, let the next person come in. I mean, Georgians that are small business owners, those people have good common sense, and we’re trusting them to use it. But if they abuse it, we will take further action. But I believe that they can do that as part of this measured approach.
Speaker 4: (01:05:46)
And governor, just as a followup, I know you’re basing your decisions on medical science and data and the best advice you can get medically and economically. But if you could share with us your thought process and how this is weighing on you. This could be one of the most important decisions you…
Speaker 5: (01:06:03)
On you. This could be one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your personal or political life because so much depends on getting it right. Reopening too soon you can imagine the potential consequences of that. What goes through your mind when you think of that?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:06:17)
Well, I can tell you I don’t give a damn about politics right now. We’re talking about somebody that has put their whole life into building a business that has people that they love and work with every single day. Working in many of these places that are at home, going broke, worried about whether they can feed their children, make the mortgage payment. These are tough decisions, no doubt and I’ve had to make many of them and I can promise you I will have to make more of them. But we also got to think about the effects on our economy and on these individuals from a mental health perspective, from a physical health perspective and literally for people being able to put food on their tables. And I believe that this measured approach has guide us to the time to trust our people to keep going after and beating this virus, but doing it in a way that is responsible.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:07:20)
And I believe the people that own these businesses as well as the people that are working them are okay doing that for a few more weeks till we can move into phase two. And it may be that they can’t all go back to work every day, but you may be able to go every other day and split the workforce up in those businesses just to get the doors open to get some money flowing and to get those people where they can feed their family.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:07:49)
But look, I understand the healthcare ramifications as well. I’ve been getting the calls from people saying we need PPE, we don’t have a bed for our hospital patients. That is why we’ve been working literally for over a month standing up these additional facilities. Literally Homer and general Carden had been across the world trying to find supplies and equipment, healthcare workers to help us in this time of need. And we have battled a lot, but it is amazing what this team has done under just nothing that nobody’s ever seen here. We have every state and territory in the United States of America it’s under this emergency declaration, the first time it’s ever happened. You don’t have two or three States that got hit by a tornado and need Gema help, you have 50 States, so this is unprecedented. So yes, these things weigh on you, but all I can do is work hard every single day, listen to the good advice that I’m getting and make the best educated decision that I can going forward and I believe that I’ve done that to date.
Speaker 6: (01:09:05)
Governor, I have a question about enforcing these restrictions. State law enforcement officers have only issued about two dozen or so citations over the first two weeks of your shelter in place order. How do you ensure that businesses follow these new guidelines and that law enforcement have the resources to make sure they comply?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:09:23)
Well as I said earlier, we’re going to be putting out additional guidelines through the week so we’ll continue to talk and answer all of these questions. Working with the industry folks. That’s why we gave ourselves a few days before all this goes in into effect so we can be methodical, we can get people educated. Our goal with law enforcement, it was never to go around and arrest a bunch of Georgians for not following the order. I think our citizens for the most part understand how important it was to do this and did it voluntarily. Those that did not or didn’t know then you know we have helped educate them. For those that after they were educated wanted to be obstructionist, then we started writing tickets and started discussing other measures in conjunction with local law enforcement and state officials.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:10:13)
But I would tell you we get reports throughout the day many calls do. We have two conference calls a day with over 24 people on them giving reports about where we are and many of those calls have been law enforcement related, DNR monitoring state parks and beaches. And most of the people that we have had to talk to had been very understanding and do exactly as we say and that’s what we’re asking Georgians to do. But if they do not, we’ll take steps if required, but they also need to understand that if they don’t follow this guidance and adhere to it, they could be putting the lives of their customers and their family and their neighbors at risk.
Speaker 7: (01:11:00)
Governor you talked about the hardship, financial hardship for many Georgians during this time. Many States have adopted a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Is that something you have considered or will consider?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:11:16)
Well, we’re considering anything that we’re getting suggested. As you can imagine, I’m getting a lot of advice and a lot of suggestions which I appreciate. It helps me keep close to the battle at hand. We haven’t had in depth discussions about that. I have had a few people that have raised that issue and I will certainly continue to consider that, but I haven’t taken any action so forth.
Speaker 7: (01:11:42)
I just had one followup on the testing capacity. The general mentioned that they’re going to do everything they can, everything is working except at the back end in terms of the supplies and the kits. How do you overcome that when that’s a problem, not just here but nationally?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:12:01)
Well, we had a lot of good information on the call today with the vice president. They talked about the supply chains for swabs and many other things. So I felt very good about what he told us today. The reports that we got from a lot of the individuals that are involved in that. So I think the supplies are going to continue to loosen up really from a nationwide perspective. Also, I think as you have hotspots like New York and California and Washington that start coming New Orleans and others that are coming off of the peak, it will continue to open up supplies to certain things. You know look, the industry knows that we got to test, so I’m sure that people are working 24/7 on that and will continue to do that. What I have charged general Carden to do is to take every test we got and use it every single day and when we run out then we’ll figure out how to get more tests.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:13:02)
I believe that if we run out, it’ll be easier for us to get tests. So that is our first goal. The second goal is we’re trying to take where we can our destiny in our own hands and that is why Augusta University, the dental school, being able to 3D print these swabs is so powerful for us and I believe more swabs are coming. The vice president talked about that today. Literally over a million that they I think are going to have delivered this week. Another 800,000 next week and I can’t remember all the other numbers he said, but that made me feel good when I heard that today. But bottom line is we’re going to do some of that right here in Georgia and control our own destiny.
Speaker 8: (01:13:51)
Governor Kemp, can we talk a little bit about the prisons, nursing home and the lottery. I know we talked about that a couple of weeks ago, but given some of the changes that are coming up this week, can you address those populations in terms of testing and what’s happening with again prisons, nursing homes and the lottery?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:14:06)
Well, I can let general Carden speak more to nursing homes and prisons with testing. So I think it might be good for you to hear from him on that. What was the specific question about the lottery?
Speaker 8: (01:14:21)
There’s some folks asking about what’s changing in terms of that? We’ve had viewers call in about the Georgia lottery and I know that was something that you said you were looking into last week we spoke to you.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:14:30)
Yeah, I still haven’t considered changing anything from our current practices right at the moment, General Carden.
General Carden: (01:14:43)
So let me first address what we’re doing in prisons and then department of juvenile justice and then mental health facilities across the state. The infection control teams that we put together initially for nursing homes demonstrated a whole lot of utility in our behavioral health facilities. We also trained members of the department of corrections in our tactics, techniques and procedures as well as juvenile justice. And so they on their own now have been trained and they’re able to deploy those techniques to prevent people from getting COVID-19 to start with as we deploy these strike teams. Obviously where we’ve seen our enemy generate what we call mass in my business is in nursing homes and then all of our longterm care facilities. So that’s the focus. And then at the direction of director Bryson, we’re bringing law enforcement and first responder critical infrastructure workers into that fold.
General Carden: (01:15:38)
And as a department of corrections generates a demand signal back to the director and back to public health then as we have limited capacity as the governor’s already laid out for you, then we have to focus that capacity on where our public health officials think it’s most effective first. And as more capacity comes online, we’re certainly going to deploy that in those areas where obviously people are together closely and in many environments, mess halls, chow halls, that sort of thing. And so we’re focusing on all of that.
General Carden: (01:16:12)
But let me just tell you, with respect to our nursing homes. I’ve seen a lot of reports on what is and is not happening in nursing homes across the country. But I can tell you what’s happening in Georgia and I would challenge you to find a state or a territory that’s got more than 1300 service members deployed to make those living in those longterm care facilities more safe. We get calls every single day from other states and other entities wanting to know what we’re doing in Georgia in these longterm care facilities. And we’ve shared this just in the last few days with Alabama, Missouri, Montana and Iowa just to name a few. So I’m very, very proud of what our teams are doing out there in our longterm care facilities. We’re going to continue to do all we can in the behavioral health community and in corrections and department of juvenile justice to help our teammates on our left and right to be successful in this fight.
Speaker 8: (01:17:09)
And while you’re there a real quick follow up with the Augusta AU partnership, is this new centers that you’re going to be opening up or these are the existing ones with DPA that are already set around the state in terms of more testing for those folks with the app?
General Carden: (01:17:22)
I’m glad you asked that question. Augusta University as the governor mentioned several days ago with respect to their app and their process and what we did Dr. Toomey Me and I went over and took a look at it. And Dr. Toomey determined that it was scalable. And so when you take something that works and you scale it very rapidly then you can quickly put yourself in a position to achieve what your boss wants you to do. The governor said to increase testing and we saw that as essentially a fast moving horse that we could put a saddle on really quick and we believe it’s going to work. And I will tell you, Augusta University, great teammates, but it’s not limited to just Augusta University. The university system of Georgia has been nothing but supportive and they’re driving this initiative. Our private partners are driving this initiative. Again, this is not a I and me mission this is a us and we mission.
Speaker 8: (01:18:17)
Dr. Toomey: (01:18:22)
I wanted to say thank you that we are looking at the existing sites but also recognize there are parts of Georgia that don’t have testing sites. And so we’re not limited to just the sites, where’s General Carden? Just those sites, but we are actually trying to actively identify additional areas that do need additional sites to be sewed up. And we’ll also add those as well.
Speaker 9: (01:18:49)
Governor Kemp, Tariq Win with Tariq on the move. My question to you is based on the way things have gone so far in our state in regards to the coronavirus, what grade would you give yourself as far as showing leadership and handling the situation?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:19:04)
Well, I think the press has been doing a pretty good job about following what we’re doing. I’m not in the business of grading myself. I can just tell you I’m working hard every day to fight this virus and to do what I can to keep our people safe.
Speaker 10: (01:19:23)
Governor Kemp, how much have you coordinated these actions with other states? Come Monday if you live in Augusta or Columbus or Ringgold or St. Mary’s, how similar are the rules going to be on the other side of the state line?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:19:35)
Yeah. I wouldn’t want to speak to what other governors are doing. We did have the call Saturday, we felt like that would be a good idea. It was a great, great call. Lot of great governors on there that I know very well have great relationships with them. They’re very honest and pragmatic people. I mean everybody’s dealing with different issues in their state. It depends on the size of their state and what Tate Reeves in Mississippi’s dealing with versus what we are in Georgia in many ways is a lot different. But we did just talk about the president’s plan, how that applied to our states where people were in the process. And I think you’ll start seeing other states they may have already done this, start taking some actions here today or in the next few days.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:20:25)
I don’t know specific what they’re going to say if I did I wouldn’t tell you anyway because I feel like it’s up to the governors to finalize their plans and roll it out. But I think for the most part they feel like we’re moving in the right direction down here. And I think everybody’s thankful that we haven’t been dealing with a lot of big hotspots. We’ve certainly had the Albany that has consumed a lot of our resources and time, but it’s a lot different than New York or New Jersey or Chicago. So I think you’ll see the governors continue to take measured steps and they understand the plan that the president put out there. They’re on all these calls like I am and we understand the guidance. And look, I’m appreciative of the president’s plan and the thought that went into it. The vice president and the task force and what Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci have have laid out. It gives us a good path to follow and that’s exactly what we’re doing with this measured approach.
Speaker 11: (01:21:32)
Governor Kemp, thank you again for your time today. With your decision today to begin reopening the state are you still holding steadfast in your decision to keep schools closed or would you maybe reconsider that?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:21:44)
Are you talking about for the remainder of this year?
Speaker 11: (01:21:47)
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:21:48)
Yes, absolutely. That is a decision that I had in conjunction with a lot of educational leaders. They kept telling me look, if we get past a certain point, it is not going to be worth bringing us back. It’s going to take too much to try to ramp back up, get everybody back in, reorganize, get the kids acclimated. They told me if it gets too far out, just go ahead and call it where we can continue to focus on distance learning and just own that and do the best we can. Don’t pull the rug out from under us and let us continue to work on next year. So no, I will not be going back on that decision.
Speaker 12: (01:22:29)
Governor Kemp, do you anticipate contract tracing or monitoring through an app becoming a requirement for admission to future large scale sporting events or concerts once those have reopened?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:22:40)
Well, I wouldn’t want to speak to the specifics of that. I think I mentioned in my remarks that we’re going to continue to follow the data to see about those type of venues and events when we get to them and start moving into other phases. You know how we deal with that I think it will be something that we continue to do in conjunction with our healthcare officials and people that have the ability to do that. But look, I do think you’re going to see the private sector start doing a lot of these innovative things. Whether it’s putting the infrared heat seeking or temperature gauges, the detectors when you walk through a certain establishment to make sure that you’re not letting someone enter that may have a fever. Whether it’s the workplace or a restaurant or movie theater, whatever the case may be.
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:23:32)
I think there’s going to be a new norm until we get a vaccine or get a treatment for this. But I think our citizens understand that. But exactly how we go about doing that I wouldn’t want to try to speculate on that right now. I do think it’s important for people if they start getting the symptoms, then they should download the AU app and talk to a physician that can give them guidance on whether they need to be tested or not and get instructions for how to handle this. I think that’s a very powerful tool and I know if I was in that boat, that’s exactly what I would do.
Speaker 13: (01:24:10)
That is going to be the last one.
Speaker 14: (01:24:14)
Governor Kemp, many of the businesses that you’re allowing to reopen on Friday are put together with people who are independent contractors and many of them have applied for unemployment benefits but have not been able to get them yet. What effect might reopening those industries have on their ability to get benefits or perhaps even back benefits from the time that they were unable to work?
Governor Brian Kemp: (01:24:37)
Well, that probably be a question to be better answered by our labor commissioner Mark Butler. I know they’ve been working very hard over there. They’re the ones that’s getting the federal guidance on that. Look, we’re trying to give them the opportunity to get back to work. How they’re dealing with unemployment and what’s coming down the pipe I wouldn’t really want to try to speculate on that. I know a lot of the guidance, especially for the 10 99 workers and the gig workers, I think updated you all press conference before last that I had spoken to the vice president about getting secretary Scalia to send that guidance. It’s my understanding that that’s been done and those claims are now being processed. I believe that they would still be eligible for that. Obviously, if they go back to work that will change the period which they may be eligible, but I would refer you to the commissioner Butler.