2 Georgia coronavirus cases confirmed, linked to Italy trip

FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey hold a media briefing in Atlanta regarding the creation of the Governor's Coronavirus Task Force.

ATLANTA - The state is expanding its capacity to test for coronavirus as the number of cases in Georgia continues to grow, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday.

At a media briefing conducted online as a safety precaution, Kemp reported 146 cases of coronavirus in 27 Georgia counties as of Tuesday afternoon, up from 121 cases Monday in 23 counties. On Tuesday, Cherokee County has seven confirmed cases of coronavirus infection.

Kemp said the state’s testing capacity is expected to double by the end of this week to 200 per day. Private labs are pitching in to help the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) increase testing for the virus.

However, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that health officials prioritize who is tested, DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said.

“Not every individual who wants to get tested can be tested because of limited supplies,” she said. “We want to test those individuals at highest risk.”

Toomey said that list includes elderly Georgians with chronic health conditions and their caregivers, health-care workers and emergency responders.

Kemp reviewed steps his administration and state agencies have taken in recent days to combat the spread of coronavirus, including calling out up to 2,000 Georgia National Guard troops, closing public schools until the end of the month and suspending Milestones testing, switching Georgia’s public colleges and universities and technical colleges to online courses through this semester and putting up emergency trailers at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County and the state Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.

The governor said all Georgians from the Grand Princess cruise ship taken to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta have gone home to self-quarantine, while 124 passengers from Illinois, Indiana and Delaware were due to head home Tuesday.

Kemp asked Georgians to help prevent the spread of coronavirus by following the CDC recommendations for what has come in recent days to be known as social distancing, including avoiding large gatherings.

The CDC has gradually ratcheted down what it considers a large gathering. Its latest recommendation is to stay away from groups of 10 or more.

The governor praised Georgia restaurants for beefing up their drive-through operations to accommodate social distancing. That hasn’t been a choice in some communities, including the city of Atlanta, which has limited occupancy of bars, restaurants and other public gathering places to 50.

“A lot of creative people in our state in our state are coming up with ways to incorporate social distancing in their establishments,” Kemp said.

Kemp said the state is about to wrap up the paperwork required to submit a request for U.S. Small Business Administration loans to help the many businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis.

“This is unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” the governor said. “We’re just going to have to work through it.”

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