State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey admitted that Georgia did not meet all the federal guidelines for reopening businesses and restaurants during a televised press conference held by Gov. Brian Kemp at the Capitol April 27.
On April 16, the White House released a set of phased guidelines for governors to follow in reopening businesses. A downward trajectory in the number of COVID-19 cases was at the top of the phase one list, which Georgia did not meet when Kemp announced businesses could begin reopening on April 24.
“We didn’t meet the full criteria, but we felt it was safe to move forward due to hospital capacity, increasing testing capacity, and ramping up contact tracing capacity,” Toomey said. “There also appeared to be a plateauing of cases.”
Toomey made the comment after Kemp had a combative back-and-forth with a reporter concerning the data he used to make his decision on reopening businesses – a move criticized twice by President Donald Trump last week.
Kemp downplayed Trump’s comments and took a page from the president’s playbook to criticize the media. “I agree with the president that the media is trying to divide us,” Kemp said. “I wish the media could could see and hear how good these calls are going between the [Trump] administration and governors – both Republican and Democrats. The level of communication governors have had with the administrations has been amazing.”
Kemp applauded Trump’s leadership and was grateful for his assistance. “It’s easy to get lost in a lot of noise, but I’ve been encouraged by the messages from small business owners who have been able to reopen,” Kemp said.
The governor said his order for businesses to reopen wasn’t a mandate, but an opportunity.
There are currently 942 fatalities and 23,773 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia as of lunchtime today. Kemp said 127,961 tests had been conducted statewide, and testing was ramping up thanks to partnerships with Walmart, CVS and Walgreens.
“We are 36 out of the 50 states in per capita testing, so we have to do more,” Kemp said.
Kemp once again encouraged Georgians to use the online screening site set up at AugustaHealth.org. Once screened by technicians, if a person shows symptoms they are referred to testing for COVID-19. The governor said 2,059 people had been screened online and 1,513 had been referred for testing.
Kemp also revealed that there are nine patients recovering from coronavirus at the surge field hospital opened at the Georgia World Congress Center in Downtown. He said the patients, who came from Grady, Emory and Wellstar hospitals, were moved to the field hospital to free up beds for other patient needs. Kemp said there were 1,023 critical care beds available across the state for COVID-19 patients and 1,800 ventilators ready for use if necessary.
Kemp said the shelter-in-place order would end April 30, but the medically fragile should continue to remain at home until May 13. He said he might extend that order for the medically fragile and would be closely watching the data.
The governor made no further announcements about when other closed businesses could reopen.