Updated Wednesday at 5:59 p.m.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that he will issue a statewide shelter-in-place order to prevent spread of the coronavirus and shut down public schools for the rest of the year.
Kemp had previously resisted calls for a statewide order for all Georgians to shelter at home, saying those decisions are best left to local governments. The result has been a patchwork of ordinances that can vary widely even among neighboring communities.
The governor also ordered that all public schools will remain closed through the end of the year. Schools have moved to online learning. The governor’s previous order closing schools only extended until April 24.
The order will be published Thursday and take effect Friday through April 13, Kemp said at a news conference. And he defended his decision not to issue it earlier, saying Georgia had implemented stricter restrictions than other states and was following guidance from health professionals.
“We are taking action to protect our hospitals, to help our medical providers and prepare for the patient surge that we know is coming,” he said. “This action will ensure uniformity across jurisdictions for Georgians sheltering in place and help families and businesses be able to comply with its provisions.”
The announcement came as the number of coronavirus cases in the state climbed Wednesday to roughly 4,600, with the death toll at 139.
Meanwhile, a south Georgia hospital that has been inundated with coronavirus cases celebrated a rare positive milestone.
For the first time, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany on Tuesday released a patient who tested positive for the virus and had been on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Hospital staff lined the hallway as the patient headed home after several weeks in the ICU, said Dr. Steven Kitchen, chief medical officer at the hospital.
“They were cheering. They were crying,” Kitchen said at a news conference Wednesday. “This is an event that we are hopeful is going to be repeated not only at Phoebe Putney, but across every hospital that we see.”
The hospital has had more than 50 patients with the coronavirus and is awaiting test results on another 80, according to hospital officials. Thirty-one people with the virus have died at Phoebe Putney.
Fulton County Issues Shelter-In-Place Order
The Fulton County Board of Health is ordering all residents to stay at their homes or face a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to 12 months in jail.
The order allows residents to leave their homes for “essential tasks” such as grocery shopping, obtaining health services, or performing essential jobs.
Fulton County is also prohibiting anybody with COVID-19 symptoms from entering public spaces.
Those experiencing homelessness are exempt from the order.
The Fulton County BOH issued the order on Tuesday and it is effective immediately. As of Wednesday afternoon, Georgia had 4,638 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which 952 hospitalized patients and 139 reported deaths from the virus.
Gwinnett Will Prosecute Stay-At-Home Violators
Gwinnett County officials say they will prosecute those not following Stay-At-Home orders.
In a tersely worded notice, Gwinnett’s office of the Solicitor General threatened those who violate the stay at home order with a misdemeanor, a possible jail sentence and up to a $1,000 fine.
The county’s order does allow for grocery shopping, it also allows for essential employees to go do their jobs.
Also parks in the county will remain open, but folks are to maintain social distancing while enjoying the green space.
The order doesn’t include a curfew.
Access A Problem For Distance Learning In Rural Georgia
The Coronavirus relief package signed by President Trump includes $30 billion for schools.
Although it includes some money for “distance learning” in rural districts, the package doesn’t include dedicated funds to help students get Internet access or tech devices.
Joe Fleming, with the Georgia Association of Educators, said that lack of access is a problem in Georgia.
“We’ve got what some are now calling a ‘homework gap,’ where the more prosperous districts are able to furnish their students with laptops and additional access to the Internet,” he said. “There are many counties in Georgia that don’t have that option.”
Fleming said the rescue package is a good bill, but the money probably won’t go far enough.
He said Georgia, for example, will have a tough time balancing its budget due to declining sales and income tax revenue during the quarantine.
Atlanta United Hopes To Play Full Schedule
Atlanta United and Major League Soccer are still hoping to play their full schedule….at some point this year.
But it’s not clear when play will resume.
As the league’s best draw, attendance-wise, no team stands to lose more from canceled games than Atlanta United. But with the coronavirus continuing to spread, the MLS also realizes that it may be a while before it’s safe for thousands of people to gather in a stadium.
That’s why the league is looking at May 10 as a tentative date to re-start the season, but it also depends on guidance from health experts.
On a conference call this week, Atlanta United president Darren Eales said the goal is still to play the full 34-game schedule, plus the playoffs.
Eales said to remember that may mean more mid-week games and pushing the MLS Cup championship all the way back to mid-December.