Governor Brian Kemp says Georgia is making “great progress” in its fight against COVID-19. In a Wednesday morning press conference, the governor said the number of new COVID infections in the state is down 64% from its peak on July 24. Georgia now ranks 34th among states in the number of new cases reported per 100K residents. And COVID hospitalizations in the state are down 60% since July.
“We can not take our foot off the gas,” Kemp cautioned. He and state public health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey urged Georgians to continue to follow public health guidance, promoting what they call “Four Things for Fall”: Wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands, and follow public health guidance.
Toomey says she wanted to “emphasize the four pillars of prevention,” as well as encourage Georgians to get a flu shot.
This is the first flu season since the coronavirus outbreak began and medical professionals do not know how the two viruses might interact. “Never has it been more important to get a flu shot than this year,” Toomey says. “We’re trying to prevent ‘twindemics’ of COVID plus influenza, which could be devastating.”
Beyond the potential health impacts, medical professionals worry a flu epidemic could severely strain hospitals and deplete bed space capacity for COVID patients.
Public health departments around the state are administering flu shots. Almost all of them have scheduled drive-through clinics, some are even offering curbside service.
The Habersham County Health Department administered 112 flu shots during its drive-through clinic on October 5. “This number was up some from the last couple of years where we saw a slight decrease in demand,” says District 2 Public Health spokesperson Dave Palmer.
The Department of Public Health (DPH) follows CDC recommendations and encourages everyone 6 months and older to get the flu shot. The state has already distributed over 307,000 doses of the flu vaccine to local health departments. In addition, the federal government will supply the state with three million rapid COVID-19 tests over the next three to four months. A shipment of 207,000 arrived Friday.
Toomey says Georgians can expect to see a minor uptick in positive COVID-19 cases as DPH adds the results of rapid antigen tests to its system. The antigen tests will be listed on the DPH site as “probable cases,” she explains.
Antigen tests provide positive or negative results in an hour or less and have identified almost all of Georgia’s approximately 21,348 probable COVID-19 cases, state health officials said in a news release.
Lives and livelihoods
During Wednesday’s press conference, Gov. Kemp pointed to other encouraging signs that Georgia is making progress in its efforts to “protect lives and livelihoods.”
The number of nursing homes operating in areas with positivity rates over 10% has dropped 71% in the past three weeks. The governor referenced the $113 million in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief funding that was recently approved for Georgia nursing homes and long-term care facilities. $78 million of that will go to reimburse nursing homes so they can meet federal testing requirements and $35 million will be used for continued state-supported staffing assistance through the end of this year.
Kemp highlighted several strong economic indicators to bolster his claim that Georgia’s on the right path. He says between July 1 and September 30 over 10,000 jobs were created in the state, representing over $371 billion in investment. “That is a 50% increase in new jobs created and an 85% increase in new investments compared to the same time a year ago,” he said.
The state’s unemployment rate remains below the national average and Georgia has maintained its Triple-A (AAA) bond rating. The governor also touted Georgia’s designation for the seventh straight year as the nation’s number one state for business.
“Georgia’s economy was firing on all cylinders before the pandemic and it’s a testament to the grit and determination of small business owners, entrepreneurs, and hardworking Georgians in every corner of our state that we are breaking economic records even during a pandemic,” the governor said.
Kemp first declared a public health state of emergency on March 14 of this year and has continuously extended it since then. On September 30, he extended all current COVID-19 restrictions until 11:59 p.m. on October 15 and extended the public health state of emergency until November 9.
This article has been updated