May 7, 2020
Governor Brian Kemp Georgia COVID-19 Briefing Transcript May 7
Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia held a Thursday, May 7 press conference on coronavirus. Kemp encouraged all Georgians to get tested for COVID-19. Read the full transcript of his news conference speech here.
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Brian Kemp: (00:00)
… video depicting Mr. Aubrey’s last moments alive. I can tell you it’s absolutely horrific and Georgians deserve answers. I have full confidence in Vic Reynolds and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. I know that they will be working around the clock to thoroughly and independently investigate Mr. Aubrey’s death to find the truth. In these moments. I would ask that you continue to pray for his loved ones, the local community, as well as our state. As you all know, we are living in unprecedented times here in Georgia as well as across the country. COVID-19 has threatened our health and wellbeing. This deadly virus has rocked our economy and while we’ve experienced some dark days on this journey, I’m certainly encouraged by our progress in this war.
Brian Kemp: (00:53)
Most Georgians are taking the pandemic seriously, wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and following CDC guidelines. I am confident that if we remain vigilant, we will emerge from this stronger, more united, and victorious. I’m proud to report that we’re seeing record highs in testing. Thanks to the partnership with Augusta University, our university system, the private sector as well as local public health officials we’ve doubled our daily testing capacity and now have over 217,000 total tests reported to the state’s website. A few weeks ago, Georgia ranked 43rd out of 54 states and territories in testing per capita. Today, we are 29. According to the COVID-19 Mapping Project, out of 23 states with more than five million people, we are now 12th in per capita testing. And while I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, there’s more that we can do to fully utilize our potential and enhance our health outcomes.
Brian Kemp: (02:08)
As we continue to expand testing and screening for COVID-19, we must also focus on lab capacity to process the testing specimens. Right now we have more than 60 testing sites with more supply than demand. In accordance with new CDC guidance, the Department of Public Health and district offices are now encouraging all Georgians, even if they are not experiencing symptoms to schedule an appointment with their healthcare provider, local health department, or get a screening through the AAU Health Express Care App. Dr. Toomey contacted local healthcare directors today to ensure that they are aware of this new guidance. Let’s build on this momentum in the days and weeks to come. I’m also proud to report record lows and ventilator use. Through our Shelter in Place Order, we were able to slow the spread and strengthen our healthcare infrastructure. Because of your patients and your compliance, we reduce the amount of stress on our hospitals as well as their employees. Through this mitigation strategy, we were also able to enhance hospital bed capacity throughout Georgia.
Brian Kemp: (03:28)
We have had our fair share of challenges over the last several weeks and I am proud of what we have accomplished together. When you look back on our successes in this battle against COVID-19 they all have something in common and that is partnerships. During this pandemic, businesses, academia, government, and hard working Georgians have come together in numerous ways to address pressing and future needs in our state. Old Fourth Ward Distillery is making thousands of gallons of hand sanitizer. Kia has donated face shields and countless other restaurants and businesses have provided free meals to frontline healthcare workers. The Department of Economic Development now has over 130 Georgia suppliers on their list of businesses providing PPE and other equipment to help us fight this virus. On testing. CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart have partnered with the state and our university system to test well over 1000 Georgians a day.
Brian Kemp: (04:36)
Sandy Springs based company Epsom Diagnostics has been supplying us with test kits to use all across our state. Peach State Health Plan and Quest Diagnostics are also delivering thousands of tests to federally qualified health centers around the state so all Georgians have access, and Google is working around the clock with Dr. Toomey and the Department of Public Health to dramatically increase contact tracing statewide. As you can imagine, this list goes on and on. These partnerships have no doubt saved lives in every corner of our great state and I’m very thankful. Today, I’m honored to announce another partnership with the private sector that will enhance current efforts to screen and test more Georgians. The Peach Bowl, college football’s most charitable bowl organization, announced today that it will donate over $1 million to Augusta University Health System to help scale the telemedicine screening app. This is an incredibly generous gift and we thank them for their support in our fight against COVID-19.
Brian Kemp: (05:49)
Peach Bowl Incorporated operates the Chick-Filet Bowl and the organization has donated and committed more than $57 million in charity and scholarships to organizations in need. They created the Chick-Filet Kickoff Game and Peach Bowl proudly serves as the Atlanta Bowl Game tradition since 1968. Peach Bowl joins the Augusta National, Tax Slayer, and many more in supporting these efforts at George’s Health and Sciences University. I want to personally thank my good friend Gary Stokan and the Peach Bowl for helping us to keep Georgians safe in our battle against COVID-19. And while our state has taken measured steps forward, we remain focused on protecting the most vulnerable among us. Over half of all coronavirus deaths and 20% of all cases in Georgia are related to longterm care facilities. And in Georgia, folks with underlying health conditions and the medically fragile account for nearly two-thirds of the deaths in our state. These are heartbreaking statistics and we are doing everything in our power to keep these Georgians safe.
Brian Kemp: (07:08)
The Georgia National Guard has been at the tip of the spear in our ongoing efforts to protect the most vulnerable among us. They’ve received national recognition for their incredible work, with 12 other states from Florida to Montana replicating their procedures. To date, the Guard has conducted more than 1200 infection control missions in longterm care facilities, with 375 out of 790 facilities receiving more than one mission visit. I’d like to thank the more than 3000 guardsmen and women who are on the front lines along with our first responders, our healthcare personnel, our longterm care staff, and our critical infrastructure workers. They are truly Georgia’s heroes and we cannot thank them enough for what they have been doing. Yesterday, I spoke with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma about George’s efforts to protect these vulnerable populations. She thanked us for our strong actions to fight COVID-19 in longterm care facilities and shared what the Trump Administration is doing to enhance transparency and support states on the front lines.
Brian Kemp: (08:32)
Under the leadership of Commissioner Frank Barry and his team, the Department of Community Help has begun planning for in-person inspections of longterm care facilities to assist with infection control, monitoring, and compliance with federal and state regulations. Safety to our staff, employees and residents remains our top priority. As such, the Department will continue to work with GEMA to ensure care providers have appropriate PPE to limit potential exposure to the faculty residents as well as staff. To date, the Department of Community Help has deployed 125 healthcare professionals to skilled nursing facilities with more in the pipeline. Rest assured, we will continue to do everything in our power to protect these vulnerable Georgians from harm. With record testing numbers, enhanced search capacity, low ventilator use, and favorable data coming in from the Department of Public Health, we continue to take small measured steps forward as a state.
Brian Kemp: (09:43)
We want to again remind people to get important medical appointments and procedures done to maintain their health. As I have said many times before, we must protect both the lives and the livelihoods of all Georgians. There are many people today who literally cannot afford to put food on the table. We must fight for both the public and economic health of our state. As we celebrate the success of our partnerships today, Augusta University, Peach Bowl, and Georgia businesses large and small, let’s remember that building a safer, stronger, healthier, and more prosperous state is a team sport. We may not agree on certain policies or belong to the same political party, but we all want the same thing, a state where families are healthy, businesses are thriving, communities are flourishing, and people are optimistic about tomorrow.
Brian Kemp: (10:46)
We want a Georgia where your zip code doesn’t define your potential, where opportunity exists for all hardworking Georgians. Now more than ever we must put our differences aside and put Georgians first. Georgia’s families, Georgia’s workers, and Georgia’s businesses need us. Their future and ours hangs in the balance. I’m now honored to bring up the Augusta University President, Dr. Brooks Keel, to give you an update on the great partnership that we have with Augusta University and some of their folks. Dr. Keel, I’ll turn it over to you.
Dr. Brooks Keel: (11:35)
Thank you very much, Governor Kemp. And let me just start off by thanking you for your strong support and unwavering leadership during this unprecedented time in our lives. Governor, we’re also most grateful for your support of Augusta University, the state’s only public academic medical center at home to the Medical College of Georgia. We’re also a proud part of the university system of Georgia, and I want to acknowledge the great leadership of Board of Regents Chair Sachin Shailendra and Chancellor Wrigley.
Dr. Brooks Keel: (12:03)
I also want to acknowledge the incredible support of collaboration we have received from the Georgia National Guard. Thank you, General Carden, and the men and women of the guard. And thank you for your steadfast support and your service to our country as well as to service to Georgia. I’m incredibly proud of the extraordinary work of Augusta University, Augusta University Health System, physicians, healthcare providers, and researchers who’ve been on the front lines of this battle against COVID-19, enhancing the state’s ability to test, treat, and slow the spread of this deadly virus. Their effort has been nothing short of Herculean. By leveraging our healthcare and telemedicine expertise, AU Health quickly developed and launched a mobile application that would provide unfettered access to COVID-19 screenings for all Georgians everywhere. Through the AU Health ExpressCare app, which can be downloaded to your smartphones, individuals can receive a virtual visit from a licensed provider 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from the comfort of your home, and at no cost to the patient. As of yesterday, more than 14400 Georgians had received a free virtual screening through this app since this launch only a few weeks ago. Of those, 8300 had been referred for testing. And the additional 14000 people have been serviced through the hotline and referred for testing when needed.
Dr. Brooks Keel: (13:25)
In addition to the many Department of Public Health testing sites, and in a matter of days and great collaboration with the Georgia National Guard, we have stood up 11 drive through locations spread across the state, having collected approximately 20000 specimens for testing, increasing tests in that state labs more than six fold in a matter of weeks. We have made and will continue to make important contributions to the lives and to the citizens of our great state.
Dr. Brooks Keel: (13:53)
But Augusta University Health cannot do this alone. The State of Georgia and it’s Department of Health can’t provide Georgians with the level of testing they deserve, if they have to do it alone. Such extraordinary work requires all of us. State, public, and private entities must come together if we are going to win this fight against this disease. So, today I’m especially pleased to welcome a new partner in this fight. As the governor’s indicated stepping up in tremendous time of need, the Peach Bowl Incorporated has teamed with Governor Kemp and Augusta University to provide funding that will help us scale up the patient telehealth screening app to make COVID-19 screenings available statewide during a critical time in the mitigation of this disease. I want to thank Gary Stokan, CEO and President of the Peach Bowl and the Peach Bowl Incorporated, for the generous donation, helping save Georgians across our state by providing improved access to COVID-19 screening. Through public private partnerships like the one we’ve announced today with the Peach Bowl, our ability to augment Commissioner Toomey and the Department of Health in their mission to provide COVID-19 testing to all Georgians who need testing is dramatically enhanced.
Dr. Brooks Keel: (15:06)
Governor Kemp, thank you once again for your leadership. We stand with you in this very important and lifesaving effort. We’re all in this together and together we will win this fight. Thank you, sir.
Speaker 1: (15:22)
Thank you, Mr. President. I hope you will pass along our gratitude to all those folks that are working very hard down there in the call center, and the medical professionals, and the folks that are helping with the testing. We’re very grateful, along with all of our frontline healthcare workers. I want to turn it over real quick to our Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner, General John King. General King, he’s part of our coronavirus task force, leading the preparedness committee. We’re working very close with Homer Bryson with GEMA, and certainly with General Carden. But I’ve asked General King to lead the charge, if you will, up in Gainesville, Georgia, in Hall County right now with the situation that we’re facing up there. And I want to ask John to come up and give us an update. General.
General King: (16:13)
Thank you, Governor. I appreciate you having me here today. I appreciate the work that you’ve entrusted me to look for ways to tackle a COVID-19 hotspot in Hall County in northeast Georgia. Yesterday, Dr. Toomey and I had the pleasure of meeting with local leaders up in Gainesville, led by Norma Hernandez of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, to discuss ways to stop the spread of the virus, particularly in the Hispanic community. There’s some great folks that attended that meeting. Dr. Pamela Logan District Two Director of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Antonio Rios and Christie Moore of the Northeast Georgia Health System, Dr. Andrew Reisman President of the Medical Association of Georgia, and Mr. Mike Giles of the Georgia Poultry Federation. Mr. Juan Carlos Lomas with Vital Foods, and Senator Butch Miller, local pastor Rudy Rebollar, among others. Together they formed a task force, Gainesville Against COVID-19. This task [inaudible 00:17:20] solutions to ensure that COVID-19 is… We have some effective strategies in Hall County and the surrounding areas.
General King: (17:29)
Priority one is to find ways to communicate effectively the safety measures to including practicing social distancing, wearing masks in public, and avoiding large social gathering. This work will involve coordinating with local businesses, radio stations, churches, and other organizations to stop the spread of this disease using a Hispanic community, which has been especially hit hard. This task force will focus on speaking to them in their own language. In particularly, they want to communicate that COVID-19 testing is free and to help share that information with people so they can be tested. I’ve toured local poultry plants firsthand to see the safety measures that have been put in place to protect workers while maintaining our food supply. Now the next step is to ensure workers continue maintaining these safe practices while at home in their communities.
General King: (18:27)
I am especially excited about the work because it’s locally driven. It is led by people who live and work in Gainesville and this region. Governor Kemp, Dr. Toomey, and the rest of the Georgia team is completely focused on this fight. But we know that the solutions have to be locally driven. I’m excited about the work efforts for the Gainesville Task Force Against COVID-19 and I know they’ll do a fantastic job in helping stop the spread of this disease. Thank you, Governor.
Brian Kemp: (18:59)
All right. Well, thank you very much, General. We really appreciate all you’re doing up in Hall County. Also, we’re going to open it up for questions. I just want to make sure everybody knows we have Homer Bryson from GEMA here that can answer questions about a multitude of things as well as Dr. Toomey, President Keel, General Carden, and certainly General King. And with that we’ll open it up for questions.
Speaker 2: (19:24)
Governor Kemp, Tariq Win with Tariq on the Move. My question to you is, in a recent order, you said that teens with the driver’s permit for a year and a day will be allowed to have their driver’s license without a driver’s test. Do you think that this will make the roads more dangerous?
Brian Kemp: (19:46)
Well, that’s a really good question, something that we’ve been working on for several days now. We should have resolution to that. I know Spencer Moore at the Department of Driver Services, and his team has been focused on basically this new norm that we’re experiencing. So we certainly appreciate the feedback that we’ve gotten. I think it’s very limited in scope, but we should have some resolution on that real soon.
Andy Pierrotti: (20:14)
Hey, Governor. Andy Pierrotti with 11Alive News. A model created in part by Georgia Tech shows by late summer that we could see as many as 10000 deaths in Georgia. If the deaths and positive cases continue to rise, do you plan or would you be willing to reinstate the shelter-in order that you currently ended a short time ago?
Brian Kemp: (20:36)
Well, I think Dr. Toomey and I’ve made it very clear, we’re going to continue to follow the data and the science behind this as we take our measured steps forward. I think I said at the last press conference, if we see the numbers turning in a different direction than we’d like to see, that we’ll take further action. I’ll let Dr. Toomey speak to all these models, but there are some… I saw one model that said we’d have 20000 deaths by August. I’ve seen other models that Dr. Birx in… I think it was the last press conference that the president had. It may have been the one before that. But someone asked her about the models and she said, “Well, they’re not incorporating into the models all the social distancing requirements that the states have in their regulation.”
Brian Kemp: (21:25)
So I think it’s important for our citizens to know we’re following a lot of things. And, as Dr.Toomey and I said literally six weeks ago, the more we test, the more positives we’re going to see, because we know there’s community spread. Our goal in all of this, for the shelter-in-place, all the measures that we had, was to flatten the curve, build the hospital bed capacity, and the infrastructure that we needed. It gave Homer time to get PPE supplies, ventilators, and all of those type things. And so we continue to watch the numbers every day. Our numbers are continuing to look better. Our percent of positives to the number of tests that were taken has gone, in a week, from the low twenties down, I think today, it’s around 15%. It may be 14. It’s been fluctuating between 14 and 16%. So our numbers continue to look very good.
Brian Kemp: (22:21)
But that doesn’t mean we got to quit doing what we’re doing. I want to urge all Georgians to continue. When you’re going to public places wear your masks. I wore one when we went to Phoebe the other day. I wore one when I went and got a haircut this morning. Dr.Toomey has been doing the same thing and that’s what we need Georgians to do to protect themselves. Continue to avoid the large gatherings. And let’s continue to drive the numbers down.
Brian Kemp: (22:50)
So I think it’s important for Georgians not to get scared or panicked because somebody has a new model that says something. Because I would just tell you, the models that we were following, as soon as you make a change forward, after meeting the gating criteria, the model immediately changes and it penalizes you for moving forward. And that’s just the nature of the world in some of these models. And I get that, but it’s like General Carden said, “All the models are wrong. But they are good guidance for us and we pay attention to them.” But we’re also continuing to pay attention to our hospital bed capacity, which continues to remain in great shape even as we’re continuing to stand up additional bed capacity with our mobile pods, like I viewed down in Albany.
Brian Kemp: (23:41)
Dr.Toomey, do you have anything to add? You good on that? Okay. Yes.
Hope Ford: (23:45)
Hi, Governor Kemp. Hope Ford with 11Alive News. Can you talk about the recommendations for all Georgians getting tested? Is there any concern that this will contribute to overwhelming any labs?
Brian Kemp: (23:56)
Well, we’ve been working on the lab situation. And certainly General Carden can speak to testing as well as Dr. Toomey-
Brian Kemp: (24:03)
… Dr. Keel on the lab situation. We did indeed press our labs. I mean, this is something that we’ve never been through before. Nobody was prepared for, I think this widespread testing like we’re doing. Thankfully, we’ve ramped up our sampling with over 60, I think it’s 66 testing sites around the state. So we are pushing our labs. But I will tell you this, that’s a good thing because we wanted to increase our testing and now we’re working on increasing our lab capacity, our efficiencies at the lab, expanding labs. We’re looking at a lot of different options. We’ve had a whole team working on that over the last two or three days to really solve that problem going forward because we know we’ve done a lot better job on testing over the last two weeks, but we still got to keep doing that for us to be able to keep moving forward with the progress that we have in our state.
Blayne A.: (25:06)
Yes sir. Thank you so much, Blayne Alexander with NBC News. I have a question if I can about the shooting in Brunswick. One, do you have concerns about the way that the investigation has unfolded thus far before the GBI got involved? And two, what will your office do specifically to ensure that this is a fair and thorough investigation?
Brian Kemp: (25:23)
Well, I’m not going to comment on the ongoing investigation that I’ve ordered GBI Director Vic Reynolds to offer assistance to the local DA. I did that right after seeing that horrific video. I’ve told Director Reynolds to follow the facts, to follow the truth and to administer justice without respect to person. I told him that when I hired him and I told him that when I asked him to reach out to the district attorney that has the case. Thankfully, that district attorney has agreed to allow us to help and do an independent investigation. I have no doubt in my mind that it will be fair and that Director Reynolds and this seasoned team that he has of investigators will work very quickly, but they will also be very thorough and they will go wherever the truth takes them.
Blayne A.: (26:19)
Thank you, sir.
Speaker 3: (26:22)
Governor, I want to ask a question about the coronavirus. In the budget, we saw the tax revenue numbers down more than a billion dollars. What kind of impact is that going to have on the state’s ability to handle this crisis? And we saw from the memo that we’re talking about 14% across the board cuts. Will you want to exclude the Department of Public Health or Community Health from those cuts so it can continue this fight?
Brian Kemp: (26:47)
Well, I’m going to tell you, I’m going to do exactly what I’ve been doing in regards to the state budget. I’m going to fight for the things that are priorities in our state as I’ve done in the past. Certainly, healthcare been part of that with our waivers. It was a signature piece of legislation that we got through the legislature to continue to make healthcare in Georgia more affordable, more accessible and also more efficient, quite honestly from the private sector market as well as the Medicaid program. Obviously in this crisis, our first responders, public safety, our frontline healthcare workers as well as supporting our teachers and our educators are my number one priorities and they will continue to be.
Brian Kemp: (27:33)
What that looks like when we get finished with the budget, we’ll have to see what the Senate rolls out, what the conference committee reports on. But that is what I’m going to be fighting for in this budget and then we continue to obviously be engaged with the federal delegation with Senator Loeffler and Senator Purdue on everything that’s going on with the previously passed CARES Act and the current discussions that they have for stimulus, whether that happens or not. I’m very confident that they will continue to work hard on Georgia’s behalf and I will be doing the same.
Speaker 4: (28:11)
Governor Kemp, how often are residents in assisted living centers being tested? And are you concerned that workers there may go out into their communities just to go shopping or go get a haircut, these things like these and then possibly bring coronavirus back into those homes?
Brian Kemp: (28:28)
Well, that’s a concern, not only for longterm care facilities, but for our hospitals and for clinics and whatever the facility is. I think the good thing in regards to our state is our people are a lot more knowledgeable than they were six weeks ago. And I may let General Carden come up and speak to the training that he’s done, not just only cleaning these facilities, but also making sure that those workers know the protocols. And I know he’s seen some interesting thing in facilities with people in places that are coming in. They’re changing clothes when they go to work, they change clothes before they come home. They’re immediately going home to shower. They’re very careful about their sanitation and in masking and we’re in PPE.
Brian Kemp: (29:14)
And we’ve learned a lot and there’s been a lot of guidance that’s been put out and I think that guidance is being followed better obviously now than it was. But this is going to be a long fight in our longterm care facilities until there’s some sort of medication or a vaccine that can shield these vulnerable individuals. And it’s not just them, it’s our elderly population as well as anybody that’s medically fragile. They need to continue to be very careful in this environment. But that is the reason that we’ve engaged Director Barry to start doing the in-person protocol checks to make sure this infectious disease control policies are being followed and that everyone in the facility is knowledgeable.
Brian Kemp: (30:00)
And let me just say that I had a call with the Georgia Health Care Association today to talk to them about that, about the call I had with Director Verma and that they want to do this. A vast majority of them have welcomed the national guard in, they have requested testing when they need it. If they ask us for something, we’re trying to get it to them, whether it’s testing, whether it’s cleaning, whether it’s PPE supplies. But I’ll let General Carden come up and speak to that real quick. And then if Homer or anyone else wants to add something, they can jump up. General.
General Carden: (30:38)
Thank you, governor. Let me just first tell you how proud I am of the folks that work in our longterm care facilities. Having personally engaged with a number of these employees, they’re in a very tough spot and they’re working very hard. In fact, in the last two days, I’ve been in a facility down in Henry County and today I was in one up in Acworth and they’re really working hard to take care of their residents, with respect to the training that we’re providing, the infection control that we’re providing, and also the testing that we’re providing them and support of the Department of Public Health. Every bit of that is at the request of the specific longterm care facility. When we go in and provide training, it’s very basic.
General Carden: (31:18)
Some of the things that the governor talked about is things as simple as what PPE do you need? How do you put it on? How do you take it off? And then our recommendations with respect to, you come to work in your street clothes, you have a sterile room where you change into you work clothes, and then you go back in there and you put your work clothes in a bag. Just very simple things to prevent cross contamination. And then we coupled that with good infection control inside those longterm care facilities. As the governor mentioned, we’ve done over 1,200 of those missions. Over 300 of them we’ve done twice and we’re going to continue to do that until the boss says, stop. And we’re going to continue to support our most vulnerable citizens out there with respect to testing.
General Carden: (32:02)
Obviously, when we see the data that tells us a longterm care facility may be having a problem, that will trigger us to make the call and offer additional support. If they accept that support, we’ll go in in conjunction with our partners in the Department of Public Health, we’ll provide that sample collection and obviously, that goes back to the lab for testing. But I think it’s important to note that these folks in longterm care facilities, the people that run those facilities had no requirement to keep PPE on hand before COVID-19, so their learning curve was absolutely vertical. And we’re not just working for them, we’re partnering with them and we very much appreciate everything that they’re doing to partner with us and to help their residents get through this.
I want to take a moment to just speak about testing. We all know the importance of testing. We’ve talked about it at length and one of the critical pieces of that has been the availability of test swabs and testing kits. And that’s been a challenge for our state and the nation as a whole. Through Dr. Toomey’s work in public health, we’ve partnered and put in place contracts with private labs to increase capacity there. And I’m happy to say that in conversations with FEMA, the CDC and the White House, in the last several days, we have a commitment from the federal government to supply Georgia with 210,000 test swaps during the month of May, and they’ll be coming into the state in weekly allocations. So I think our ability to ramp up testing is only going to increase over the next several weeks.
Brian Kemp: (33:49)
And I’ll just echo what Homer said, very grateful for the Trump administration, the vice president and the task force. They had been signaling that to us over the last several days because they, like administrator Verma said today, are focused on longterm care facilities like we are and they know that the PPE and testing is going to be of big help in fighting that battle. Dr. Toomey, while we’re on testing, why don’t you come up and you can just give a quick update on anything you might have.
Dr. Toomey: (34:21)
Good afternoon everyone. I think the last time I was here, I talked about the challenge I gave to our team to do 100,000 tests in two weeks. We have actually done 110,000 tests in less than two weeks by ramping up our test sites, doing more testing, being more efficient. And I think we also recognized that we needed to offer testing more broadly and that’s why we have opened up the criterias as the governor said, that anyone who wants to get a test regardless of their symptoms can be tested. So we’ll continue to prioritize first responders and others at high risk like healthcare workers. But we want to ensure that everyone who wants to get a test can get access to free testing through one of our sites.
Dr. Toomey: (35:10)
I think it’s particularly important now as we look at the statistics, particularly important now as the governor said, as we are initiating contact tracing. The trigger to begin contact tracing is that positive test and so we want to be able to identify everyone in the community who may be infected, weather symptomatic or not, so that we can ensure we can stop that spread. Thank you.
Speaker 5: (35:37)
Governor, I don’t know if this is better for Dr. Toomey or for you, but as more and more people get out and start returning to businesses, you say you’re going to watch the data. What is the metric or the metrics that you really focus on to determine if things are getting out of control again? What are the things that you’re really watching?
Brian Kemp: (36:03)
I’ll let Dr. Toomey come back up, but we’re watching the things that we always have been. As the curve went up and now as it’s flattening and starting to go down, we’re watching our hospital bed capacity, we’re watching our cases of flu like symptoms, emergency room visits. A lot of times you can get more from those figures than you can before the numbers that you’re seeing on testing, I’ve been also watching our number of positives to the amount of testing we’re doing. So right now we’re doing more tests, but the number of positives, the percentage that is positive is going down. So that’s good.
Brian Kemp: (36:42)
But also have to think, you have to keep all of this relative, right? Because if we start going and focusing solely on nursing homes or if we have a situation like an Albany that happens again or either starts to happen, or even a hotspot like we’re seeing a little bit up there in Gainesville and we start going and doing a bunch of testing up there. Most likely that’s going to drive our numbers up. But if it’s an isolated area that we can control and do testing and do contact tracing, which is going on now, and Dr. Toomey is going to be talking more about that hopefully next week, we’ll be able to stay on top of those issues.
Brian Kemp: (37:28)
And I think a good example is Albany. They’ve done a great job down there. I went down there yesterday, they have really stayed on top of things, their community pulled together to really take the fight to the virus to get people to adhere to socially distancing and avoid large gatherings. And the pastors did the right thing by not holding large, in-person services and doing online. And that’s exactly what General King’s doing right now up in Hall County. And we just know a lot more now than we did back at the end of January, first part of February when this virus seems to have been here and was spreading before people even potentially realized that. But I’ll let Dr. Toomey see if she has anything to add on that.
Dr. Toomey : (38:20)
Thank you. You covered many of the things I would have said, but in addition I would say, we’re looking not only at the numbers that are coming in, in aggregate, we’re looking at the numbers as they’re coming in individually. We may be able to identify hotspots as they are emerging, that we can get on top of them quickly and I think that’s the value of public health as a statewide system, that we have the public health districts and counties working together with the state looking at these data literally daily at how things are unfolding. I think that the local individuals in Hall County identified that there were some issues before we did in our statewide data, and they alerted us to that. And so we will continue to use not just the collective, the aggregate data that is reported to us, but also the individual data.
Dr. Toomey : (39:17)
I just also want to mention just something about nursing homes because nursing homes we know are hotspots. And to me one of the keys to ensuring that nursing homes stay safe as we move forward because we’re looking at COVID-19 as part of the new normal of how we do business in the state and public health. Infection control is absolutely a critical part of what they need to do as part of their routine business, and several of our health districts are working in partnership with the local hospital system. I’d particularly like to shout out WellStar, in partnership with the Cobb County Health Department, are going in proactively to nursing homes to offer testing but also to do work on infection control. And we’re going to have to continue that and that should be part of our ongoing work in the future to continue to ensure infection control is meticulously followed even without testing.
Dr. Toomey : (40:23)
That is absolutely the key to stopping spread in nursing homes and particularly testing. As you pointed out in your question, the staff who work there to ensure that they have access to testing, that they’re not unwittingly coming into work with an infection that’s unrecognized. So as we continue to monitor both temperatures but also have access to testing for healthcare workers, I think we can get on top of some of these hotspots and some of the increases before they happen.
Speaker 7: (41:00)
Dr. Toomey don’t go anywhere, because this might be more for you than the Governor. Does the state currently have enough staffers to trace every case that arises, or does the state need to prioritize nursing homes, frontline workers, other high risk and more vulnerable communities due to the sheer number of cases that we have.
Dr. Toomey : (41:19)
We are in the process of ramping up dramatically our access to contact tracers. That’s the question?
Speaker 7: (41:24)
Dr. Toomey : (41:25)
We’ve estimated we need about a thousand, we already have 250 on board and have actually been able to engage students as part of their work, both medical students and public health students and are currently onboarding 200 of those. You may have even seen, there’s a job announcement on our website to hire additional staff. We have had a thousand applications. We will be hiring within the next weeks at least 300 and hope in a second wave to hire 300 more. And I’ll be talking more about this in the days to come, but we have been able to ramp up our numbers significantly even just since we last met about 10 days ago.
Speaker 7: (42:13)
But the overall goal’s a thousand staffers?
Dr. Toomey : (42:15)
We’re aiming ultimately for a thousand and we have now been able to get over 500 between five and 600, between the student interns and the staff and redeploying existing state staff to this work as well.
Dr. Toomey : (42:33)
We have training on board. We have a partnership with the CDC foundation. They’re getting us a training coordinator that is starting next week as well as a deployment coordinator because this is a, I mean I hate to use metaphors like General [Carden 00:00:42:53], but this is a military operation. This is logistical, and we needed to get our logistical people in to help us deploy. This is more than an epidemiologic activity, this is a logistical deployment and we wanted to make sure we had the experts in to help us and so we’ve really reached out in a very deliberate and creative way to engage the local donor community as well as our schools.
Dr. Toomey : (43:18)
And I’ve mentioned, I think to you before, my dream that all this, as we’re bringing on the med students, public health students, is that we will be training the public health leadership of the future, getting them excited about public health, not wanting to go into dermatology or some easy thing, but getting into something hard like public health. And we’re hoping that this is part of the success of our efforts as well as stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Speaker 7: (43:49)
Thank you, doctor.
Dr. Toomey : (43:50)
Speaker 8: (43:50)
All right, thanks folks. I’ll be around to answer questions.