ATLANTA -- Today, Gov. Brian P. Kemp gave the following address to Georgians:
"Today I am saddened to announce that we have lost twenty-five Georgians to COVID-19. As we mourn, I ask my fellow Georgians to lift up their loved ones in prayer. Please keep them in your hearts and minds.
"Over the past few days, the number of COVID-19 cases has dramatically increased. Currently, we have 772 cases in sixty-seven counties. We are starting to see the impact of coronavirus on medically fragile populations in long-term care facilities. State health and emergency management officials are working tirelessly to conduct testing, bolster capacity in our healthcare infrastructure, and prepare as we address the challenge before us.
"The Department of Public Health’s state lab has now conducted 1,245 COVID-19 tests, and commercial labs have conducted 3,824 COVID-19 tests. We now have twenty-three test sites for specific populations at the following locations: Cartersville, Rome, Dalton, Woodstock, Gainesville, Marietta, Atlanta, Morrow, Lawrenceville, Stone Mountain, Newnan, Dublin, Warner Robins, Augusta, Columbus, Valdosta, Tifton, Albany, Douglas, Statesboro, Brunswick, Savannah, and Athens. To be tested at one of these locations, you must have a referral from a medical provider. Tests are limited to elderly Georgians, members of the law enforcement community, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staff, and healthcare workers. We must protect those who are protecting us, and that is why we have these new testing sites in strategic locations statewide.
"In many areas of our state, Georgians are heeding the advice of President Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Georgia Department of Public Health. I am deeply thankful to the hardworking Georgians who have incorporated social distancing into their everyday lives and protected the elderly and medically fragile from unnecessary exposure. To all of the local leaders, the faith community, and others who embraced this call to action, thank you. Your leadership and hard work are flattening the curve and keeping people out of harm’s way.
"Up until this point, I have implemented several targeted measures to slow the spread of coronavirus and protect vulnerable populations. Through March 31, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools remain closed. Where feasible, some school systems have moved to online learning, and I applaud local leaders for finding ways to keep students engaged. Also, I want to thank the nutritionists, bus drivers, and volunteers who are packing and delivering school lunches to students across our state.
"On March 12, I directed state agencies to implement teleworking policies. Aside from the most critical government services, most state employees are working from home. I have also restricted visitation at certain state-run health facilities, correctional facilities, and juvenile justice centers except in end-of-life circumstances.
"On March 14, 2020, I declared a public health state of emergency to deploy additional resources and give the Department of Public Health authority to direct specific healthcare action in our fight against the spread of COVID-19. As part of this state of emergency, I have authorized new processes for temporary licensure of out-of-state doctors and nurses, and I have authorized the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency to coordinate with the Georgia National Guard to call up as many as 2,000 troops to assist in emergency response.
"Last Friday, I signed two additional executive orders: one authorizing nearly $20 million in emergency funding to pay for necessary medical supplies, and the other reducing regulations - especially in the healthcare context - to address COVID-19. All licensed Georgia pharmacists are now permitted to dispense a ninety-day supply of a prescription drug if a patient has no remaining refills and the pharmacist cannot get in contact with the prescribing provider. Pharmacists may also dispense early refills for prescription drugs. However, these authorizations do not apply to Schedule II controlled substances.
"In addition, the Georgia Board of Pharmacy is now empowered to grant temporary licenses to out-of-state pharmacists, and I have lifted certain restrictions on the expansion of healthcare facilities, new services, and expenditures. These measures will positively impact our healthcare infrastructure by removing regulatory red tape as we expedite projects to address patient needs.
"Among other provisions, the order lifts requirements for in-person corporate shareholder meetings, allows Georgians to utilize private providers to comply with state minimum standard codes for building inspections or similar structures, and allows the Department of Community Health to waive regulations which would otherwise hinder our capabilities in responding to this crisis.
"Through the Department of Revenue, I have decided to extend Georgia’s tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020 in accordance with the new federal tax filing deadline. We will issue more guidance on this change in the days ahead.
"On March 12, 2020, the Department of Public Health notified cooperating agencies within the state about the activation of our Strategic National Stockpile plan. Accordingly, the Department submitted a request for strategic national resources to federal officials to support the state’s COVID-19 response.
"On March 13, 2020, our state multi-agency task force – comprised of officials from Public Health, Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Forestry Commission, Georgia State Patrol, Natural Resources, the Department of Defense, the Technical College System of Georgia, the University System of Georgia, and local supporting agencies - stood up our strategic national stockpile warehouse of personal protective equipment (PPE). The task force started distributing eighteen packages of state-owned PPE to each of our state’s eighteen public health districts to support local healthcare providers and county health departments. Over the weekend, we distributed 268,200 N95 surgical masks to all 142 hospitals within Georgia. Earlier today, we also distributed thirty ventilators to two of our hardest-hit counties: Dougherty and Floyd.
"On March 16, 2020, the federal government’s first delivery of PPE began arriving at the state’s warehouse. To date, we have executed three scheduled re-supplies to our 142 hospitals, eighteen public health districts, affected long-term care facilities, and emergency medical services in all 159 counties.
"We have shipped out 532,170 N95 masks, 65,640 face shields, 640,600 surgical masks, 46,740 surgical gowns, 635,000 gloves, and sixty-four pallets of general hospital supplies. According to U.S. Health and Human Services, Georgia will receive a second delivery of PPE within the next five days. GEMA has placed an order for respirators, which are scheduled to be delivered to the state’s warehouse this Friday. GEMA continues to place orders for supplies and resources to support frontline healthcare providers and first responders.
"Right now, one of our biggest challenges is healthcare capacity in hotspots across the state. For example, in Dougherty County, we currently have sixty-four cases with six deaths from COVID-19, and capacity is becoming an acute problem for Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital.
"Several hospitals are facing potential bed space shortages and supply issues. To address these problems, we have identified multiple options to bolster capacity. For example, in Dougherty County, emergency management officials are working to reopen Phoebe North, which is currently closed but will offer at least twenty-six rooms for patients once we get it back up and running. In Albany, we have identified an additional facility with capacity for roughly sixty medical and isolation beds if needed. In addition, we have asked federal officials to allow us to keep the temporary medical facility at Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Once cruise ship passengers depart, we are hopeful that we will have this location in the metro-area for patient diversion. It will offer roughly 200 patient beds if needed.
"At the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, we have completed construction of an isolation zone to hold as many as twenty emergency housing units, and the campus offers as many as 242 dorm rooms to use for patient surge. Earlier today, Vice President Pence called on governors to inventory all of our outpatient surgical centers to determine potential bed space. This process has already been underway through the Department of Community Health, and we will report back to our federal counterparts once we finalize the numbers.
"As part of this initiative, we urge healthcare providers to consider canceling elective procedures to preserve medical supplies and free up resources, including workers and treatment space. So far, we have identified nearly 600 additional beds beyond what our hospitals currently offer, but our work is far from over.
"Right now, the state is exploring projects with the Army Corps of Engineers for arena space and large buildings, and we are considering the conversion of vacant and underutilized properties of all types for hospital space. The Georgia National Guard is standing up teams to support regional coordinating hospitals, and the first team will embed for training with Grady Health System in the next forty-eight hours. In addition, the Georgia Department of Defense is working with the Georgia Medical Reserve Corps to administratively attach to the State Defense Force, which is comprised of volunteer workers to assist in emergencies. To bolster our responsiveness, Georgia has also signed a statewide contract with Healthcare Workforce Logistics to deploy clinical staff during any patient surge.
"To support Georgians’ ability to receive timely, effective care, on March 9th, Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King issued a directive to insurance companies to ensure telemedicine and telehealth options be covered at the same rate as regular, in-person care.
"Over the past few weeks, we have seen a large increase in the number of applications submitted for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Last week alone, the Division of Family and Children Services received nearly 12,000 online applications - up from 6,400 online applications two weeks ago. Those numbers do not include paper applications. Requests for medical assistance, such as Peachcare for Kids and Medicaid, have also increased. Last week, applications for medical assistance increased by 50 percent. Without question, families are facing hardship in this time of need.
"State officials are working on plans to support the nutritional needs of its most vulnerable residents, allowing families who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to access the maximum benefit amount for their household in March and April. Right now, the average monthly SNAP benefit per Georgia household is $225. About $200 million in SNAP benefits is distributed to Georgians every month.
"This supplement will allow them to get the maximum benefit amount for their household size, which is $194 for a household of one, in March and April. In March and April, approximately one million Georgians who receive SNAP will get an additional $100 in nutrition benefits.
"This change could be a major support to senior citizens in our state, who typically receive about $15 in SNAP benefits each month. This supplement will allow them to get the maximum benefit amount for their household size, which is $194 for a household of one, in March and April. State officials are also working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue the increased supplement for March as soon as possible. March benefits have already been issued, so the supplement will come in the form of a second allotment at the end of the month. The supplement will be included as part of the regular monthly benefit in April.
"To assist in other areas, the state is reassigning staff and working with federal partners to address the sudden increase in requests for public assistance as quickly as possible. We will continue to provide updates as we identify solutions for our constituents.
"Today I will issue an executive order requiring the Department of Public Health to require certain individuals with an increased risk of complications from COVID-19 to isolate, quarantine, or shelter in place.
"At minimum, this order for isolation, quarantine, or shelter in place covers those who live in a long-term care facility, have chronic lung disease, are undergoing cancer treatment, have a positive COVID-19 test, are suspected to have COVID-19 because of their symptoms and exposure, or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
"The Department of Public Health will promulgate rules and regulations to implement this order and define how these individuals can access essential services, travel, and receive visitors in end-of-life circumstances.
"This order will close all bars and nightclubs, and it will ban all gatherings of ten or more people unless you can maintain at least six feet between people at all times. The Department of Public Health will be empowered to close any business, establishment, non-profit, or organization for noncompliance. These measures were developed using guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia Department of Public Health. This order will go into effect at noon tomorrow and expire at noon on Monday, April 6, 2020.
"These measures are intended to ensure the health and safety of Georgians across our state, and I ask for everyone’s cooperation over the next two weeks. They will protect the medically fragile, mitigate potential exposure in public venues, and allow the state to ramp up emergency preparedness efforts as cases increase in each region.
"Additionally, I will sign an executive order today suspending restrictions against the practice of medicine by individuals whose licenses became inactive or lapsed within the past five years. Graduate nursing students who have yet to take their licensing exams will also be allowed to seek temporary licensure through the Georgia Board of Nursing. These measures will directly address critical healthcare needs in the weeks ahead.
"Today I - along with twenty-one governors - signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to request new block grant funding for states to fight COVID-19. Governors across the country are on the front lines of this fight, and many of us are spending heavily at the end of the budget year, facing a significant decline in economic activity in this crisis. We desperately need these resources, and I look forward to working with our federal counterparts in the days and weeks ahead.
"This fight is far from over, but we are in this together. Look out for your fellow Georgians and pray for the continued safety of our first responders, healthcare workforce, elderly, and medically fragile.
"Please continue to follow the guidance of healthcare professionals by using best practices – regular hand-washing, social distancing, and disinfecting frequently used areas to prevent infection.
"While we have taken strategic, direct action today, I am calling on my fellow citizens to fight this virus with everything you’ve got. We are all part of this solution. If your friends, neighbors, or local organizations are not complying, call them out, or report them to us. If an establishment isn’t following these directives, take your business elsewhere.
"We cannot let this virus defeat us. We are stronger than this crisis, and we will weather the storm. Thank you, may God bless you, and may God bless the great State of Georgia."
Governor Kemp's executive orders will be published here once signed.