Updated Wednesday at 7:33 a.m.
Total confirmed infections from the new coronavirus surged to nearly 1,100 across Georgia on Tuesday, with deaths rising to 38, as officials in southwest Georgia’s largest city warned they’re out of intensive care space.
Georgia’s municipalities were urged to impose more restrictions to blunt the virus’ spread.
The number of positive results pushed to 1,097 by Tuesday evening, or 37% over Monday evening’s numbers, reaching more than half of Georgia’s 159 counties for the first time. The state listed 361 people as hospitalized, the first time it released that total.
Southwest Georgia’s Dougherty County continued to report the highest per capita numbers, according to the state Department of Public Health. Infections there rose to 101, a rate more than 10 times as high as Georgia statewide. In that county, which includes Albany, officials are working to create more intensive care and general beds. Georgia lists 14 of its deaths in the rural and poor southwest part of the state.
Dr. Steven Kitchen, chief medical officer at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, said during a televised briefing Tuesday that the hospital’s three ICUs are filled and the hospital improvised a fourth 10-bed unit for non-COVID-19 patients. He said that unit is full too, and that on Monday, doctors had to discharge ICU patients to make room for five patients with worsening conditions.
“We continue to see an increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in our care,” Kitchen said. “We’re quickly approaching the point of maximum capacity. We need a relief valve.”
The state Department of Public Health on Tuesday called for volunteers with and without medical training. Medically-trained volunteers may be used to answer COVID-19 questions by phone or help at testing sites. Nonmedical volunteers may be used for administrative or other help.
The association’s model ordinance would impose nightly curfews from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., allow only takeout or delivery orders from restaurants, and shut down gyms, theaters, salons, social clubs and other businesses.
The state closed an empty quarantine site at Hard Labor Creek State Park near Rutledge and said it would direct people to a new site built at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center near Forsyth.
Some local governments including Atlanta, Albany and surrounding Dougherty County, and Athens-Clark County have already adopted restrictions that go beyond those ordered by Kemp statewide. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Tuesday said he was imposing stay-at-home restrictions in the coastal city beginning Wednesday.
“While Governor Kemp’s executive actions announced yesterday addressed some of the critical needs in our state, I do not feel that it goes far enough in ensuring the health and safety of our citizens,” Johnson told a news conference Tuesday.
Lawmakers Urge More Action
Democrats in the state House also signed a letter to Kemp urging stronger restrictions.
“We must be proactive in the fight against this ‘invisible enemy’ and protect our citizens,” Democrats wrote in a letter posted Monday.
Even some Republicans are voicing support for further measures, with Georgia House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge telling news outlet Fetch Your News on Monday that “if we overreact, thank God, we overreact.”
“You hate to contemplate a shutdown because you know it’s going to cause economic pain, and it’s going to cause economic pain to people I care about,” Ralston said. “But I would prefer that over hearing of them becoming very ill or dying.”
Some leaders support the go-slow approach, though, in hopes of limiting economic damage. Dalton Mayor David Pennington has said he chose his words poorly when he called concerns about COVID-19 hysteria. But he’s not backing down from his point that shutting down too much could cause catastrophic economic damage.
“If we flatten our economy, it’s a whole lot easier to shut an economy down than it is to get it started up, and you have to pay for this,” Pennington told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
The Georgia Department of Labor has said unemployment filings are running much higher than normal, although the department says it won’t release weekly numbers until Thursday. But more than a dozen businesses have filed notices with the state in the last week that they’re laying off more than 1,200 employees, including a number of hotel, restaurants and child care facilities.
Atlanta Mayor Issues Stay At Home Order
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has issued a 14-day stay at home order for city residents due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The order went into effect Tuesday at midnight.
Atlantans can leave their homes for “essential” services. Those services include grocery stores, laundromats, health services, gas stations, banks and restaurants that have takeout and delivery.
Residents can also go to parks or the BeltLine but are encouraged to practice “social distancing.”
People experiencing homelessness are exempt from this order but are encouraged to seek shelter.
On a call with City Council members Monday morning, the mayor said she had a stay at home order in place but was asked by Gov. Brian Kemp to hold on signing it until he addressed the public.
“He has asked that I hold off on signing that order until I hear his additional recommendations or his additional orders for the state,” the mayor said on the call. “I have agreed to do that; I think it’s important for us to coordinate in that regard.”
The governor ordered those at high risk, such as the elderly, to stay home. The governor’s order also closes bars and nightclubs statewide for two weeks.
States that have issued stay at home orders include California, New York and Illinois.
Officials: More SNAP Money Coming
State officials say Georgians who rely on food stamps will see more money for nutrition benefits amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.
Governor Kemp announced Monday night that the extra benefits will support about one million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients..
Kemp also said that applications for the federally-funded SNAP program have skyrocketed, and the Division of Family and Children Services received about 12,000 applications, compared to more than 6,000 a few weeks ago.
APS To Remain Closed through April 13
Atlanta Public Schools just announced that the district will remain closed until at least April 13, in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
District officials say they are working to make sure all APS students have access to devices like iPads and laptops.
APS says parents should immediately get in touch with the district if their TechEd needs aren’t being met.
Most metro Atlanta school districts have switched to an online learning format until further notice because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Georgia Rideshare Drivers Seek Economic Relief
Lyft and Uber drivers in Georgia are asking for economic relief as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grow in the state.
Austin Gates, chairman of Rideshare Drivers United Georgia Inc., said drivers are some of the most vulnerable workers in the state.
Actions his group wants to see include a moratorium on evictions, waiving tax obligations for some independent contractors and allowing drivers to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
“I’d urge the Governor to act as quickly as possible to take action to protect working people,” he said.
According to the group there are about 100,000 Uber and Lyft drivers in the state. More than half are full-time drivers, according to the organization.