Cases, deaths continue to increase as Georgia prepares to start reopening

ByWright Gazaway|April 21, 2020 at 2:10 PM EDT - Updated April 21 at 2:57 PM

ATLANTA, Ga. (WTOC) - Governor Brian Kemp announced plans to ease business restrictions on a day Georgia announced the highest one-day death toll of the outbreak. Since April 1, Georgia averages 764 new cases and 35 deaths per day.

The state saw 909 new cases and 85 new deaths on Monday when Governor Kemp announced plans to ease restrictions. The state is not seeing a decrease in new cases over 14 days. WTOC requested data from the governor’s office or Department of Public Health showing the state is seeing a decrease in the percentage of positive tests. That data has not been provided yet.

The White House recommendationssay states should achieve one of those before going on to Phase One of reopening. The other criteria focus on hospital visits, testing capacity, and hospital bed capacity.

The governor said hospital visits for flu-like symptoms are down, and expanded testing through the Georgia National Guard and Augusta University satisfies the White House requirement to have robust testing in place. He said the construction of a facility at the Georgia World Congress Center also gives the state enough bed capacity to treat patients.

“The Georgia National Guard will mobilize ten new strike teams to deploy to hot spots and long-term care facilities to administer 1,500 tests per day. Testing expansions through Augusta University and the Guard will complement existing initiatives, including the Department of Public Health’s capacity, Georgia Tech’s CVS testing site, and private labs. As I’ve said before, testing defines the battlefield and informs our long-term strategy,” Kemp said.

Phase One permits the reopening of gyms, restaurants, and large venues under strict social distancing guidelines. Schools and other youth activities that are closed, should stay closed. Businesses should also continue allowing people to work from home if possible. Older people and others with pre-existing medical conditions should continue to shelter in place.

The announcement from Kemp allows gyms, hair salons, and massage centers to reopen Friday under strict guidelines previously outlined in anexecutive orderon April 2. Restaurants and theaters can follow suit next Monday under similar, strict guidelines. In defending this decision, the governor made clear that the economic impact weighs heavily on him.

"I don't give a damn about politics right now. We're talking about somebody that has put their whole life into building a business that has people that they love and work with every single day working in many of these places that are at home going broke, worried about whether they can feed their children,” Kemp said.

The governor recommended churches continue meeting online or over the phone, given the fact that many can’t properly distance congregants in their worship centers.

“These are tough decisions, no doubt. I’ve had to make many of them, and I can promise you I will have to make more of them,” Kemp said. “We also got to think about the effects on our economy and on these individuals from a mental health perspective, from a physical health perspective, and literally for people being able to put food on their tables.”

Roughly 10 percent of the state’s population has filed for unemployment, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. The agency has paid over $500 million in state and federal unemployment aid since the middle of March.

The governor also said he will let the shelter-in-place order expire at 11:59 p.m. on April 30. The state’s public health emergency lasts through May 13.

Georgia public schools will remain closed through the rest of the academic year.

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