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Kemp says he is balancing diverse community needs in not ordering lockdown
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Brian Kemp. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

With more than 1,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia as of Thursday evening, Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered public K-12 schools to close through April 24 and shut down bars and nightclubs. But he said in a televised town hall meeting Thursday evening that he has to balance the needs of all of Georgia’s communities when considering a statewide stay-at-home order.

“I’m having to govern the whole state. It’s much different than certainly what Mayor Bottoms and other local officials have done,” Kemp said. “… We still have over 50 counties that don’t have a confirmed case yet, so trying to balance all those things, continuing to go on the data that we have and supporting local elected officials.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who also spoke at Thursday’s town hall, has issued a stay-at-home order for the city of Atlanta.

“If it were my call, I would have a stay-at-home order for the entire country, but obviously, that is not my call, and I certainly understand and respect the governor’s position that he is balancing diverse constituencies across the state and their needs may be a bit different,” Bottoms said. 

Kemp said he has heard from Georgians concerned about the financial impact of having to stay home from work. He encouraged social distancing to slow the spread of the virus and prevent the burdening of the state’s hospitals.

“If we can get our citizens to follow these directions, it will absolutely turn this curve. We can get on the other side of this virus, and it is critical that we do that for our health care system,” Kemp said. “... It’s really up to the public to cut down on the number of people that we have to go to the hospital.”

Homer Bryson, director of the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, said during Thursday’s meeting that the state is finding isolation rooms for people who are not sick enough to be hospitalized but can’t go home because they live with someone who is high-risk. Bryson said the state is also looking for additional bed space for hospitals, preferably inside existing facilities, although officials are also in contact with private vendors and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in case additional spaces need to be built.

Kemp said he recently had a call with almost 800 faith leaders and encouraged them to do online services. He has banned gatherings of 10 or more people.