Jan 8, 2021

Governor Brian Kemp Georgia COVID-19 Briefing Transcript January 8

Governor Brian Kemp Georgia COVID-19 Briefing Transcript January 8
RevBlogTranscriptsPress Conference TranscriptsGovernor Brian Kemp Georgia COVID-19 Briefing Transcript January 8

Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia held a press conference on January 8 to provide coronavirus updates. Read the full transcript of his news conference speech here.

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Governor Brian Kemp: (00:00)
All right. Well, good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us. Just want to let you know. I have Ryan Loke here with me today, our Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Healthcare Advisor, to answer any questions that you may have on vaccine distribution. He’s been working with Dr. Toomey’s team for a long time now on that, and he can give you more in the weeds details if there’s anything that we’re missing in my remarks. I wanted to take just a quick moment before the weekend to give you an update on where we are in the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine as we continue to fight the virus here in the State of Georgia. As you all know, last week, we announced that we would be expanding the Phase 1A criteria to include people over 65 and firefighter, law enforcement, as well as first responders.

Governor Brian Kemp: (01:05)
I’m happy to report that beginning soon, Georgian’s over 65 and those other priority populations can visit the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website to find locations in your community where you can schedule an appointment for the vaccine, also, at a health department, pharmacy, grocery store, or even hospitals in certain locations. Not including the partnership between CVS, Walgreens, and Operation Warp Speed, the state now has the capacity to administer 11,428 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines per day. That is approximately 80,000 doses a week. As of today, we have administered 24.48% of the vaccines delivered to the state by the federal government. Today and through the weekend, there are four mass vaccination sites for healthcare workers in Metro Atlanta located in Gwinnett, Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.

Governor Brian Kemp: (02:12)
These sites have the capacity to administer thousands of vaccines per day, and they’re already booked with appointments throughout the weekend. That is certainly welcomed news as we continue working diligently to vaccinate the vaccinators as well as our frontline healthcare heroes. Yesterday, as you know, I issued a new executive order allowing emergency medical technicians and cardiac technicians to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to those who are eligible in Georgia. Paramedics have always been able to administer the vaccine, and this order clarifies the other types of emergency medical professionals who are also eligible to administer. This important action, growing the number of people who can vaccinate by more than 10,000, takes us one step further to our ultimate goal of growing the number of people who can be vaccinated.

Governor Brian Kemp: (03:14)
I borrowed this phrase from Dr. John Louis over at Emory over these last few weeks, as he said, “Vaccines don’t save lives. Vaccinations do.” And I want to, again, express my deepest thanks on behalf of all Georgians to the doctors, nurses, public health officials who have led by example to receive the vaccine themselves and are in the fight with us now to continue its administration. As I have said when the first vaccines were administered in the state several weeks ago, this has been and will continue to be a heavy logistical lift for the State of Georgia. Dr. Toomey’s team at DPH is working diligently with nearly 1000 providers who have enrolled in the state’s immunization reporting system to ensure that they are aware of the strict reporting requirements under the vaccine provider agreement. At this time, we believe there is a significant under-reporting based on the state immunization team’s conversations with multiple providers and we will continue our efforts to ensure the data is transparent, up to date, and accurate, as we always have.

Governor Brian Kemp: (04:35)
We are making steady progress. Local health departments are receiving high volumes of requests with very limited appointments. Phone systems, as you can imagine, are busier than ever. Public health staff have been working tirelessly for months to battle the pandemic and are working quickly to scale up appointments and call centers to assist the public in getting vaccinated. I’d like to continue to ask for the people of Georgia’s patience as we work hard to swiftly, safely, and efficiently administer the limited supply of vaccine we have to those for whom it would be the most good to get it, including our first responders, frontline healthcare workers, our seniors and staff and residents in longterm care facilities. We’ve also been working alongside Commissioner Frank Barry and the Department of Community Health to continue shoring up resources for our longterm care facilities.

Governor Brian Kemp: (05:38)
In October, I announced state support of nearly $78 million in aid for COVID-19 testing at our nursing homes through December. And today, I can announce that the state will continue those testing support efforts through June 30th of this year to find and mitigate spread of the virus while we work alongside our private sector partners like CVS and Walgreens to fully vaccinate residents and staff. No one has been hit harder by COVID-19 than the thousands of longterm care facilities in Georgia. We intend to stay with them in this fight until we ultimately defeat the virus. My message this afternoon to the people of our great state is the same as it has been for weeks. We have much hope on the horizon, but we’ve got to hunker down and continue to fight through this together, continue to follow the guidance we’ve talked about endlessly.

Governor Brian Kemp: (06:40)
Wear your mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and heed the guidance of our public health officials that we had placed in our executive orders. I can tell you that our team has not and we will not take our eye off the ball. We will continue to work day and night to get this vaccine out and to bring an end to this long battle. We will get there together and ensure a safer, healthier, and more prosperous future in the Peach State. And with that, I’ll be glad to take any questions we might have. Oh, sorry.

Jeff: (07:28)
Governor Kemp, when you say that you believe there is significant under-reporting, what reason do you have to believe that? And are you still seeing differential take-up rates for vaccines between the Metro area and more rural areas of the state?

Governor Brian Kemp: (07:46)
What was the last part of the question?

Jeff: (07:47)
Are you still seeing more willingness to be vaccinated in Metro Atlanta versus in other areas?

Governor Brian Kemp: (07:53)
Let me just speak to the bigger picture, and I can let Ryan answer probably in more detailed the first part and perhaps second part of that question. I mean, the system that we have for people to do the reporting, it’s just more workload, especially for our medical facilities in our hospitals. As you can imagine, they’re very busy right now. I’m very sympathetic to that, but we have to have good reporting. I mean, we know where our numbers are. The problem is we’re under-reporting on the website and publications are putting it we’re a lot worse off than we really are. And look, I’m pleased with how hard everybody’s working, but I’m not happy with where we are. We’ve got to keep moving the needle. We’re working on that every single day.

Governor Brian Kemp: (08:45)
But we also told people, “Look, this is a heavy logistical lift. This is not like going in getting a flu vaccine, you get a quick shot in the arm, you go back get in your car and go home.” You’ve got to give the shot. You’ve got to monitor that person for 15 minutes. There are certain time limits you have to be within to make sure the vaccine is not spoiling. It’s just a lot different from things that we’ve done in the past. And let me just speak to the reluctance of some to get vaccinated. I want to encourage everyone. Please, this vaccine is safe. It is highly effective. It has been through the rigors of any other vaccine and it’s miraculous how quickly that was done. But I have complete confidence in the vaccine. I will be getting one as soon as I become eligible. Dr. Toomey has gotten hers. I just referenced all of these healthcare workers that were number one in line at their facility to show their colleagues and really our fellow citizens that it is safe to get this vaccine.

Governor Brian Kemp: (09:51)
It’s really unimaginable for me that people that have been fighting on the front line of this battle for so long are reluctant to take the vaccine. But that’s just what we’re dealing with. That being said, we have a lot of people that are calling our office, calling public health departments every day that want the vaccine, which is why we expanded the criteria last week. But we still just have a limited supply that we are getting from the federal government. We know that that’s going to be ramped up in the weeks ahead so we’ve got to continue to prepare for that. And with that, I’ll let Ryan speak to more specifics of that.

Ryan Loke: (10:32)
Thank you, Governor. And, Jeff, specific to your question, we were able to go through in the immunization tracking system called GRITS and pull all of the data of what hospitals and public health departments and pharmacies and other enrolled providers had received in vaccine versus what they’d actually reported. And we were able to identify several large hospital systems who had reported what I’ll call null data, that was in single digits or double digits when they had received thousands of vaccine doses. So Public Health and their team are working incredibly quickly with those hospital systems right now to identify how many doses they’ve actually reported, what problems they might be having with inputting information into GRITS. And I expect today you’re going to see a large uptake in the number of vaccines reported and then through the course of the next week or so getting caught up on the backlog of GRITS reporting.

Speaker 4: (11:21)
Governor, the other side of demand and reluctance is the crashing of the computer systems and the phone systems when people are trying to get through. What are you doing to help the health departments across the state keep up with the demand and allow people to get an appointment?

Governor Brian Kemp: (11:35)
Well, that’s why we just asked for people’s patience. So we know there’s tremendous demand. We knew that was going to happen when we expanded the criteria. I think we were very clear last week that we had more demand in the Metro areas than we had supply. We had rural areas that had supply with less demand, which is why we expanded the criteria. I wouldn’t be able to speak to any specifics about a website or phone lines crashing. I can imagine they’re very busy. We’re glad to follow up on any specific instances that you may have in regards to that.

Speaker 5: (12:17)
Mr. Governor, do you think colleges, and particularly the colleges in the university system-

Governor Brian Kemp: (12:20)
I’m sorry. I cannot hear you.

Speaker 5: (12:23)
Do you think colleges, and particularly the colleges in the university system in Georgia, will be at the vaccination levels needed to resume full in-person classes come August of this year?

Governor Brian Kemp: (12:34)
I’m sorry. I couldn’t understand you.

Speaker 5: (12:36)
Sorry. Do you think colleges, and particularly the colleges in the university system in Georgia, will be at the vaccination levels needed to resume full in-person classes come August of this year?

Governor Brian Kemp: (12:44)
So you’re asking about the vaccines and students going back in person?

Speaker 5: (12:49)
Yes.

Governor Brian Kemp: (12:50)
Well, obviously, students of that age bracket don’t meet the qualifications yet, nor do I. We’ve been in great conversations with school superintendents and others about getting the vaccine out to our teachers and professors and other people. Obviously, in those systems right now, if there’s teachers that meet the criteria, school nurses, school resource officers, those over 65, they can call their health department. If they have availability, they can go get the vaccine. The data that we’re seeing in young people and in our state is very clear that kids should be in the classroom. There’s a safe way to do that. We had a briefing this week. If anybody wants more information, we’ll be glad to let Ryan Loke and Dr. Toomey’s team follow up in regards to that. So I expect you’re going to see a lot of kids going back into the classroom, regardless of what the situation is with vaccinating their staff.

Governor Brian Kemp: (13:54)
However, that is front and center on our mind for when we move to the next phase and have more availability. We definitely want to get our educators vaccinated along with other people that are quite honestly on the front lines of the pandemic in many different ways besides our healthcare folks. I mean, you’ve got grocery store clerks, a lot of front facing people, state, government, and other in the private sector and other things. And so we’re going to continue to roll this out as quickly as we can.

Andy: (14:24)
Governor, a new, more contagious strain of COVID is here in the state. You all have given some information about that. Has there been any spread of that? Do we have any more updated information about the individual and how they’re doing?

Governor Brian Kemp: (14:39)
Well, I don’t know if Ryan wants to add anything. I mean, even before we announced that we had the first strain, I’ve assumed for well over a week, probably close to two weeks now, when Colorado had the strain, I figured we had it. If it’s in the middle of the country, you’ve got to figure it’s in just about every state or it will be soon. And certainly, in Georgia with the logistics network that we have and just airports and interstates and everything else. I don’t know if that’s a reason for our uptick that we’ve seen. I think for the most part, it’s probably just post holiday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, all the things that we warned against, which is why it’s important regardless of what kind of strain it is and what’s happening here. We know what helps prevent and mitigate that, and that is wearing your mask, socially distancing, following the guidance and the guidelines, and just being smart about what you do and don’t do.

Andy: (15:41)
Do we know if there’s more than one case of that strain that’s here?

Ryan Loke: (15:50)
Andy, so far we’ve only been able to identify one case. That was that 18 year old that was reported earlier this week. Labs, particularly the Thermo Fisher Lab, if people have that equipment, have the ability to identify the specific variant, but we haven’t been able to identify any other variants of this or any other of the new strains so far.

Speaker 7: (16:12)
Governor, two questions. First on vaccines. We’re hearing from health departments, people are saying, “Well, the Governor says that I can get my vaccine because I’m over 65,” and they are just being flooded with people right now. Why open it up to as many people as you did when we didn’t have the supplies or the infrastructure to handle that demand?

Governor Brian Kemp: (16:30)
Well, what you’re saying is not correct. We expanded the criteria to start on January the 11th, which we haven’t gotten there yet. We also explained to people when we announced that expanded criteria that it would only be if the vaccine is available. So if you’re reporting that anybody over 65 can get the vaccine, that’s technically not correct. They’re eligible for it if there’s supply. We’ve been very consistent about that message. And that’s why we’re telling people, call your health department. I mean, look, I just said in the remarks, we have a little less than 12,000 doses a day outside of what the longterm care facilities are getting through CVS and Walgreens. And you think about a state of 10 million people with the number of sick people that we have that’s 65 and older, the number of first responders, the number of other people that meet the criteria are healthcare workers. Even taking out longterm care residents, that’s a lot of people.

Governor Brian Kemp: (17:35)
We do not have near the supply to deal with that. What we were simply trying to do is to make sure that we didn’t have vaccine sitting in freezers somewhere. And that is what we’re going to continue to do as soon as we can open up broader. I mentioned in my remarks the things that we’re working on, that when we do get that supply, to have other private sector partners, the 1000 providers that Dr. Toomey has signed up, we’ll start implementing that. But we can’t really do that. I mean, we have 159 health departments across the state in every single county. You take 12,000 and divide it by 159, that’s not that many doses. We’re going to use every single resource that we have in the state to get this vaccine in people’s arms. But we’ve also got to have an ample supply. And look, we have things that we need to do better on our end. We need to do a better job of reporting.

Governor Brian Kemp: (18:33)
We need to do a better job of making sure that we’re communicating with the public and answering the phones, that the folks at the local level are getting the appointments set up and that we’re transparent with people, and all that messaging. And I’m committed to continuing to do that. But we also are constrained right now by supply and our allotment that we’re getting from Operation Warp Speed.

Speaker 7: (18:56)
Another question on pandemic response. Since October, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has been warning Georgia to step up mitigation. They did it again before Thanksgiving. They did it at again before Christmas. You have not enacted any new restrictions, except today that you encourage people to continue to wear masks and follow the guidelines. Are we not at a time with the hospitals overflowing that we need to be taking more aggressive steps?

Governor Brian Kemp: (19:19)
Well, we have other states have taken more aggressive steps and their hospitals are overflowing too. We can deal with this virus. We can fight our way through it. I’m talking to hospital CEOs every week. Our team’s talking to them, I would imagine, it’s safe to say every single day. I got an update on hospital capacity yesterday. I got one this morning. They are managing unbelievably. It’s amazing what they’re doing. It’s amazing what they’ve learned and how they’re able to treat more of these patients. But keep in mind too, we still statewide, our average of COVID patients in the hospital is 30%. So the reason our hospitals are full is we have 70% of the hospital that’s non-COVID that is extremely busy right now with other procedures that require overnight stays, which is why we’ve implemented the bed capacity plan that we’ve had set up.

Governor Brian Kemp: (20:15)
We got the World Congress Center up and running. As of yesterday, I think we had 22 patients there. I think that will continue to go up to help give relief to our hospitals, and we’ll continue to do everything we can to support. But right now they are holding their own. We are augmenting staffing and, quite honestly, for the business model and the financial stability of our hospitals, they need to be doing that kind of volume. The last time we shut down, they begged me not to shut down again, because they said, “We’ll go bankrupt.” We know how to fight through this. We need to continue to do that. If something changes, I’ll always have an open mind.