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Kemp extends Georgia stay-at-home order as cases pass 10,000

Kyong Miskelly sews masks at the Carole Fabrics facility in Augusta, Ga., Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Carole Fabrics has converted its factory from manufacturing drapes and window coverings to now making coronavirus masks. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)
April 08, 2020 - 6:10 PM

ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday he's extending his order for Georgia residents to shelter at home through April 30 as the number of coronavirus infections confirmed statewide passed 10,000.

Kemp also announced he's requiring nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to do more to screen staff and patients for symptoms and keep facilities disinfected. He's also placing a temporary ban on short-term vacation rentals starting Thursday in response to local officials who fear tourists are flocking to Georgia to visit open beaches and parks.

“While I’m encouraged by some of the recent data, we still have incredible challenges ahead of us,” Kemp said during a news conference at the state capitol.

Confirmed deaths rose to 370 in Georgia, according to figures released Wednesday. Of those, 81 have come in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Nearly 2,100 patients overall have now been hospitalized.

Kemp extended the public health emergency declared last month through May 13. It had been set to expire Monday. State lawmakers last month granted Kemp temporary powers and allowed the governor to renew them without reconvening the legislature for another vote.

Another thousand members of the Georgia National Guard were mobilized and Kemp called for medical professionals to join Georgia's Medical Reserve Corps.

Wednesday's higher case count was the result of 5,000 more tests, as the state seeks to increase testing capacity. Kemp announced an agreement with a company for at least 2,000 more tests per day.

Southwest Georgia continues to have the highest per-capita concentration of cases. Randolph County's 86 confirmed cases represent an infection rate more than 12 times the state average, Associated Press calculations show. Dougherty County, including Albany, has the state's third-highest infection rate, with more than 1,000 cases in a county with fewer than 100,000 residents. Dougherty County has recorded 62 deaths, most statewide.

Fulton County, Georgia's most populous, reports more than 1,200 cases, the most overall. Of Georgia's 159 counties, only Evans, Glascock, Montgomery and Taliaferro counties haven't confirmed infections.

Kemp has closed public schools through the end of the academic year and ordered Georgia residents to shelter at home except for reasons such as work and grocery shopping. He has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people and closed some businesses. Restaurants can only serve meals for takeout or delivery.

One of Kemp's new executive orders on Wednesday seeks improvements at long-term care facilities. Several nursing homes have reported multiple fatalities, including one in Athens where 10 people have died.

The Georgia National Guard now has 36 infection control teams that have completed work at 67 facilities, Kemp said.

“There was a lack of consistent infection control being observed,” Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said.

Officials said the state's stock of masks, gloves, shields and gowns has improved thanks to federal distributions and state purchases.

“I feel a lot better about (personal protective equipment) than I did a week or 10 days ago,” Kemp said. He said efforts to increase hospital beds show promise, citing the early opening of a just-completed building at Piedmont Healthcare's Atlanta hospital.

Kemp's shelter-at-home order last week rolled back additional emergency restrictions imposed by local governments. Some mayors and county commissioners vocally criticized Kemp for reversing local beach closures and halts to vacation rentals. Kemp said Wednesday he was prohibiting new short-term vacation rentals for the rest of April, nodding to local officials.

“I think there was a lot of concern about people coming who didn't need to be travelling,” Kemp said. The governor stood firm on allowing beaches to remain open so people can get outside. “If something gets out of control ... then we'll shut those down in the future,” Kemp said. "But right now people are behaving.”

Kemp banned homes or condos rented through third parties but didn't close hotels, motels or campgrounds.

Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions said the vacation rental ban arrives too late, as she's seen visitors in recent days from New York, New Jersey and other hard-hit states. Closing the beach, she said, would take away tourists' reason to come.

“That's really not going to help Tybee at all,” Sessions said. “We’re going to see what else we can do to discourage travel out here.”

Glynn County Commission Chairman Michael Browning said he thinks Kemp's solution will work.

“We wanted the vacation rentals shut down as quickly as possible,” Browning said, adding that he's OK with beaches staying open — as long as state officers patrol to deter crowds.

“They have to stay,” he said. "If they leave, within two hours probably it’s going to be a covered-up beach out there.”

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This story has been corrected to show 155 counties in Georgia now recording infections, not 157.

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Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

News from © The Associated Press, 2020
The Associated Press

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