Georgia's Gov. Kemp touts progress against COVID-19

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is reflected in a mirror as he speaks during a stop on his fly-around tour to encourage Georgians to stop the spread of COVID-19 in Augusta, Ga., Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. [Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

Gov. Brian Kemp touted an encouraging decline in the number positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Georgia Wednesday while urging people to get their flu shots immediately.

At a news conference, Kemp noted new positive cases have dropped more than 60% from their peak in July and the two-week positivity average – a key marker to assess the virus’ spread – has fallen by half since August.

Hospitalizations stand at just under 1,300 cases statewide, marking a 60% drop from the peak of people needing medical care for coronavirus, Kemp said Wednesday.

The governor emphasized progress has been made due to Georgians by and large participating in distancing and cleanliness guidelines including keeping six feet apart, washing their hands and wearing masks.

“The key is for us now to keep doing this,” Kemp said. “We cannot take our foot off the gas.”

With schools and businesses reopening after closures since March, Kemp and the state’s public health director, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, stressed it will be critical for Georgians to get their flu shots now to avoid dual outbreaks of highly infectious respiratory viruses.

Toomey said an outbreak of the flu in Georgia could tax local hospitals to the point where they struggle to treat patients for COVID-19 and other ailments, similar to what occur at the height of the pandemic in spring.

“Never has it been more important to get a flu shot than this year,” Toomey said. “We’re trying to prevent twin-demics of COVID plus influenza, which could be devastating.”

Schools across the state are undertaking a mix of online and in-person classes to start the year, while businesses and social gatherings remain under capacity amid sanitization restrictions that have been in place for months.

In Cherokee County, schools reopened with in-person instruction on Aug. 3 with enhanced safety protocols. Outbreaks of infection led to the temporary closure of three high schools, which are slated to re-open for five-day in-person instruction next week. As of Friday there were fewer than two dozen active cases of COVID-19 in the system which serves more than 40,000 students.

Kemp, who has faced criticism for relaxing business restrictions earlier than other states, on Wednesday touted job gains seen since July as well as steady state revenue collections in recent months. He also noted Georgia’s unemployment rate of 5.6% is below the national average.

“We have worked hard to protect people and their paychecks,” Kemp said. “And yes, we can do both.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 324,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 7,229 Georgians. In Cherokee County there have been 6,280 cases of coronavirus infections so far during the pandemic and 94 deaths.

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