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 stay 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 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.
He said the state had to be more aggressive, with models showing Georgia needed more time to prepare to handle patients with the virus. He also said guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that people could spread the virus earlier than previously thought, even when they had no symptoms, was a “game-changer.”
“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 cases in the state climbed Wednesday to over 4,700, with the death toll at 154.
Kemp was not the only Republican governor in the South to reverse course Wednesday. Two other governors who had resisted statewide stay-home orders — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves — issued those orders on the same day.
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.
Surrounding Dougherty County has 490 of the state’s coronavirus cases, second only to Fulton County in total cases, according to the state Department of Public Health.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.