Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that a shelter-in-place order will take effect for all Georgians on Friday.
The order will be in place through April 13.
Kemp’s decision was influenced by recent changes in modeling and data for Georgia and other states regarding the spread of COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that individuals can be infected and spreading the virus earlier than was previously thought, even among those who do not show symptoms. One in four people may have no coronavirus symptoms but still be spreading the disease, the CDC reports.
This new finding was a “game changer” and requires Georgia to take more aggressive measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Kemp said during a press conference in Atlanta.
Kemp intends to sign the shelter-in-place order on Thursday. He said the order will lay out the guidelines on how Georgians are expected to stay home and what services and businesses will remain essential.
Kemp also announced Wednesday that the state’s public k-12 schools will remain closed for the remainder of the school year.
These measures are intended to prevent hospitals and healthcare facilities across the state from being overwhelmed by patients as the virus continues to spread.
As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, Georgia had 4,638 COVID-19 cases across 139 counties and 139 deaths, Kemp said.
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to the families, loved ones and communities of those we have lost to this terrible virus,” he said.
Recent models show Georgia to reach its peak of cases April 23.
“This model assumes Georgians continue to abide by the state’s orders and social distancing measures until the end of May,” Kemp said.
Kemp also announced the state would be taking several measures to “ramp up” the state’s ability to test and treat patients, including transferring laboratory equipment from multiple Georgia universities to accredited clinical labs at Georgia State University, Augusta University, Emory University and the Georgia Public Health lab to increase the state’s COVID-19.
Having more testing capacity will get results back faster and allow people to make more informed decisions, said Coastal Health District risk communicator Ginger Heidel. It will also reveal many more cases that hadn’t been confirmed due to lack of testing equipment.
That, along with the virus’ rapid rate of spread, will contribute to the “surge” in cases Kemp said Georgians should expect over the next three weeks.
“Generally between three and six weeks from the first documented case in a community, you can expect to see a major increase in cases,” Heidel said. “The first case in Glynn County was confirmed exactly two weeks ago. We fully expect our numbers to increase very rapidly over the next several weeks.”
The new equipment will allow state labs to run 3,000 test per day, Kemp said. That’s a significant increase from the 150-175 it could run before, Heidel said.
“However, laboratory capacity is only one element of the overall testing process. Our state still faces a shortage of the medical supplies necessary to perform a test, like the swabs for specimen collection and the reagents used to safely transport the specimen to the lab,” Heidel said.
“Until we have more of these supplies, we will still have to limit testing to the most severe cases, to individuals in long-term care settings and to healthcare professionals and emergency responders.”
Officials at Southeast Georgia Health System did not return requests for comment by press time.
Kemp also announced that the state had deployed the National Guard and healthcare personnel to Dougherty County to help with a major outbreak in Albany and that the Guard has would be activating more than 100 reserve members to implement infection control and advanced sanitation measures at senior care centers around the state.
Measures taken by the state to reduce the spread of COVID-19 may have had an unexpected side effect, he said: an increase in domestic violence cases and a drop in child abuse reports.
He said the drop in child abuse reports could be due to children having less face time with teachers and encouraged potential victims to call the state Division of Family and Child Services at 1-855-422-4453.
Domestic violence victims are urged to call the state’s hotline at 1-800-334-2836.
In other coronavirus news:
• Eight more cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the Coastal Health District, according to figures released Tuesday evening.Glynn County increased by one for a total of 19. Camden County also went up by one for a total of five. McIntosh remained the same with one.Chatham County, which reported two deaths from COVID-19 earlier this week, climbed to 39, an increase of three. The number of cases in the other eight-county coastal district are Liberty, seven; Effingham, five; and Bryan, nine, including one death reported earlier. Total number of confirmed cases in the Coastal Health District now stands at 86.
• Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also issued a shelter-in-place order for the state of Florida on Wednesday, calling on residents to limit trips from home “to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.” Florida’s order will take effect at midnight tonight and end on April 30.