Gov. Kemp brushes off criticism for reopening, emphasizes social distancing

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at the Georgia Capitol on Monday.
Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at the Georgia Capitol on Monday. (WCGL-TV via CNN)

ATLANTA – Standing with Georgia’s director of public health and the head of the Georgia National Guard on Monday afternoon, Gov. Brian Kemp called on Georgians to continue doing what they can to protect the most vulnerable people as many of the state’s businesses reopen.

The news conference comes as the state’s COVID-19 caseload surpasses 24,000, hospitalizations surpass 4,700 and deaths near 1,000. It was also on the day Kemp allowed some Georgia restaurants to reopen for limited dine-in service. Movie theaters in the state are also allowed to be open for screenings.

Kemp acknowledged thanked the business owners who did open, but added that he supported people waiting to open, but said that “we are better off trusting people” to meet his guidelines in order to stay economically solvent and eventually move into Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

Kemp talked about the growth in testing, which is up to 127,169 people -- up 67% last week alone. It’s now available at 49 sites across Georgia, many of which are not being used at capacity.

“We have the tests, we have the physicians, we have the sites and we have the bandwidth,” he said.

Kemp encouraged anyone with symptoms who wants a test to go to to find out if they qualify and where to go.

Kemp said there are 1,000 critical care beds available in the state -- more now than since data collection about hospital beds began..

Georgia’s shelter-in-place order is also set to expire at 11:59 p.m. Thursday. Kemp said they are currently gathering data to make a decision on what the next few weeks in the state will look like. Bars, nightclubs, and amusement parks remain closed.

The shutdown imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus caused tremendous damage to the economy. About a fifth of the state’s workforce — 1.1 million workers — filed for unemployment in the five weeks since the crisis started, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

But public health experts say increased testing and diligent tracking of infected people’s contacts are needed to guard against a spike in new cases if reopening happens too quickly. Georgia has ranked in the bottom 10 of states for testing per capita, but some progress was made on that front last week.

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