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Kemp optimistic on Georgia virus fight as concerns linger

By Jeff Amy
The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp says Georgia is headed in the right direction in its effort to contain the COVID-19 respiratory illness, although others still point to  areas of concern.

Kemp on Monday noted that the fewest ventilators were in use and the fewest patients confirmed to be positive for the coronavirus were in Georgia hospitals since the state began keeping those statistics on April 8. The number of hospitalized patients fell again Tuesday to 1,125 statewide, while the number of ventilators in use ticked up to 884.

On Tuesday, Georgia was reporting more than 34,000 confirmed cases overall and 1,461 confirmed deaths from the virus.

Positive cases reported Tuesday reflect infections that occurred two weeks earlier, so Georgia may just now start seeing the impact of its decision to allow businesses to reopen, said Robert Bednarczyk, an epidemiologist at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.

The drop in the number of people in hospitals was good in case of another surge, “but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re out of the woods right now,” he said.

Concerns also remain about geographic hot spots and disproportionate harm to African Americans and Hispanics. The Morehouse School of Medicine on Tuesday released a study that found that, even when accounting for differences in poverty, health insurance and population density, Georgia counties with higher shares of African American residents have higher shares of confirmed COVID-19 rates.

The Northeast Georgia Health System, a four-hospital group based in Gainesville, continues to warn that it could exceed the capacity of its staff to care for patients next week. The hospital system’s overall patient numbers have held steady in recent days, but the share of ventilators in use rose to 44% of capacity Tuesday. The region has large numbers of Spanish-speaking residents concentrated in poultry plants.

Santiago Marquez, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a member of Gov. Brian Kemp’s coronavirus task force, told The Valdosta Daily Times that undocumented immigrants fear testing sites staffed in part by National Guard members.

“I don’t think we have a good handle on how many Hispanics actually are infected as we do with the general community,” Marquez said.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr on Tuesday issued a letter to Congress signed by 20 other Republican attorneys general calling for lawsuit protections to cover businesses, manufacturers of personal protective equipment, emergency workers, healthcare workers, healthcare facilities, and members of law enforcement.

Carr wrote that Congress and states should enact a “common-sense framework to provide liability protections for much-needed goods and services while still ensuring victims are able to seek legal redress and compensation where appropriate.”

Carr’s move came as businesses across the state continued to reopen. Tourist trolleys are running again in Savannah, but with 6 feet chained off between seats and reduced stops.

The YMCA of Metro Atlanta said it would reopen 19 of 24 facilities on a limited basis starting Friday.

Another business getting back to normal is the state lottery. Brad Bohannon, the Georgia Lottery Corp.’s vice president for government relations, told the state House Higher Education Committee Tuesday that lottery sales recovered in April after dropping in March.

“Most other forms of entertainment were limited,” Bohannon said. “April sales rebounded really well.”

He said the lottery now estimates it will return more than $1.1 billion in profits to the state this year to finance college aid and preschool classes.

The state’s justice system remains frozen, though, after Chief Justice Harold Melton on Monday extended the statewide judicial emergency through June 12, barring jury trials and grand juries in most instances.

For most people, the coronavirus 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.