Gov. Brian Kemp challenged Georgians to spend four weeks diligently following guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, including wearing masks, in his first public press briefing on the pandemic since June 2.
Kemp has asked Georgians to do “four things for four weeks” – wear a mask when out in public, practice social distancing, wash your hands and follow the current executive orders guidance from public health officials.
“We must reaffirm our commitment to flatten the curve,” Kemp said. “We need the younger generations to recognize the importance of following public health guidance and to realize that their behavior can have serious consequences for their loved ones.”
“If all Georgians will do those four things, we will make incredible progress in the fight against COVID-19,” he said. “We can protect our loved ones, we can revitalize our local economies and we can continue to make measured steps forward.”
Monday afternoon, the state announced a partnership with a new lab, Mako Medical, to help speed up the processing of COVID-19 test results.
As cases have risen, demand for testing has been high, and some Gerogians are waiting two weeks for test results.
The state is collecting, on average, more than 14,000 test specimens a day, with a positivity rate of 13.6 percent, “which reflects community spread,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“We acknowledge that we need more testing. We are working to expand and improve our testing system. But at the same time we also recognize that our lab capacity needs to be improved,” Toomey said.
A two-week delay is unacceptable, she said, not only for the people awaiting results but also for public health officials trying to respond to the crisis.
“We can’t do COVID prevention with that kind of turnaround time,” she said.
Mako Medical will be able to process 10,000 tests per day, and provide results within 48 hours, on average, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
The quicker turnaround will enable the state’s contact tracers to respond more quickly to newly identified cases, Toomeny said.
The state has 1,300 contact tracers and is bringing on 700 more in the next several weeks. She asked Georgians to cooperate with contact tracing.
As cases continue to climb, hospitalizations have gone up by 39 percent in just the past week, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“We continue to see outbreaks in workplaces, in businesses, in congregate settings, daycares, camps, fraternity houses, many churches and any place where there are a large number of people gathering,” Toomey said. And there have been new outbreaks in long-term care facilities.
When outbreaks are identified, Toomey said public health officials “begin our intervention, begin our follow up with our local health department to make sure we do contact investigation and contain the spread.
“It’s critical that we take personal responsibility, practice social distancing, wash our hands frequently and wear a mask when out in the community,” she said. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of this virus.”
Wearing a mask prevents people from spreading COVID-19 to others. “It is the best protection we have,” she said. “And it’s better when we all are wearing a mask.”
Toomey mentioned a CDC study that found the virus could be controlled in four to eight weeks if everyone would wear a mask.
The study reinforces the importance not only of everyone wearing masks but of the executive orders in place that require masks in business settings, Toomey said.
Though Kemp is asking Georgians to wear masks, he said he doesn’t think it should take a mandate to make Georgians do the right thing.
Some local governments have imposed mask mandates, which Kemp says are unenforceable.
Instead of passing mask mandates, they should be enforcing the current executive orders, he said. That includes enforcing mask requirements at businesses such as restaurants, and enforcing social distancing and gathering limits.
He urged local governments and local organizations to “use your bully pulpit to help build up support for wearing a mask when needed” and to “double down and mask up.”
Leaders all agree that it is good to wear a mask in the right situation, Kemp said. “We cannot let politics divide us.”
Kemp also addressed conditions that may have led to the current surge in cases. Some have said that it’s because Georgia began to “reopen” too soon.
But Georgia businesses reopened two months before the big surge, Kemp said. He said he thinks the large protest that began after Memorial Day “sent a message to people of – hey, it’s all right to get out again, we can let our guard down, we’ve got this thing beat,” he said.
“Clearly, this fight is far from over,” Kemp said.