Gov. Brian Kemp acknowledged that Georgia is seeing an increase in cases of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus as he toured a testing site in Lilburn on Friday, but he resisted calling for new restrictions or measures to contain the disease.
Kemp got a chance to see the drive-thru testing site at Lilburn First Baptist Church and met with officials from the church as well as the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments. Gwinnett has been seeing higher numbers of new cases of COVID-19 reported daily.
“We’re seeing an uptick in cases and we continue to monitor that literally hourly,” Kemp told reporters on Friday. “I’ve done three or four hospital CEO calls in the last two days. We’re going to continue doing that the rest of the week to make sure we’re staying up-to-speed on what’s happening in the real world like we’re doing today at (this) testing location.”
Kemp is not looking at rolling back any of loosening of restrictions on businesses that he’s allowed to happen since he let a stay-at-home order for most Georgians expire at the end of April.
He also said mandating the state’s residents wear face masks in public, a move some other states have been taking with their residents, is not something he’s looking at doing right now.
“Look, I have said, (and) I’m trying to demonstrate myself, that it is a good idea if you’re going to be going out to public places where you’re going to be around people for an extended period of time, or be around people in a close environment, it’s a good idea to wear a mask,” Kemp said.
“Mandating that is a bridge too far for me right now. We have to have the public buy-in. Over the last several months, the public has done that.”
Meanwhile, Gwinnett County has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, even though it is only the second most populous county in Georgia.
Dr. Audrey Arona, the district health director for Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties, said the district has the ability to conduct as many as 5,000 COVID-19 tests per week, but it is conducting nearly 4,000 tests a week at this time.
Zip codes in the Lilburn, Norcross and Lawrenceville areas have had the highest incidence rates although health officials continue to assert that the disease is everywhere in the county, and that residents need to take precautions such as washing hands regularly, wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
But the data is also why a testing site was opened in Lilburn in late May. It is the second testing site to be opened in Gwinnett, joining one that opened early on during the pandemic in Lawrenceville.
“(The disease) has been here actually, which is why, looking at the zip code data, we knew we had to be in this location,” Arona said. “We’re grateful that the community has embraced this and has actually scheduled (testing appointments), but we have people from all over coming here to this location to get tested. It’s not just (people from) Lilburn and Norcross.”
Kemp said he was impressed by what he saw at the test site in terms of the ability to work with people who speak a variety of languages as well as the speed in which people were able to get tested and move through the site.
He also pointed out the Lilburn site was established after local health officials saw a concentration of cases in the southwest Gwinnett area.
“This is exactly what needs to be happening, when we see a situation like this, much like we had in Hall County,” Kemp said.
The governor said Georgia is continuing to “jump on” hot spots that officials see emerging. He pointed to a situation with a nursing home in Troup County and a hot spot in the Dalton area that he said appeared to be tied to workers in the flooring industry as examples of issues his office and state public health officials have been keeping an eye on.
“The severity, the acuity, of patients is not nearly what it was early in the pandemic, but that being said we’re not letting our guard down,” Kemp said. “We’ve got to continue to fight the fight hard every day (and) continue to jump on the hot spots.”