ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) – Governor Brian Kemp spoke exclusively to CBS46’s Karyn Greer on Wednesday about state testing, flattening the curve and how Sterigenics is just days from reopening to help medical staff on the frontlines of fighting the illness.
Karyn Greer: A couple of the questions that we have had from people very concerned about how the testing is being handled and who is eligible to receive the tests now.
Gov. Kemp: The good news is we're ramping up on testing … we have 23 sites around the state open, our regional sites I've talked about over the last several days. The labs are testing more. Private sector companies are getting in as well. Still taking them a while to get the results back which is frustrating but that's out of our control, but we continue to push that.
Karyn: If you feel ill that's not a reason to go get tested. So, governor, let them know again. Who's eligible to get tested?
Gov. Kemp: The protocol coming from CDC is we need the tests to go to our frontline healthcare workers. They're the ones caring for us, so we need them to not be going down. If there's a potential someone got infected, we need to test them to know if it’s positive or not. First responders are our other frontline of defense. Third population is the medically fragile, most vulnerable. They can be monitored and get treatment. So, that is the protocol that is going to continue. Those are the priorities. If people start feeling bad, if they’ve got a low-grade fever, they need to be at home, self-quarantine. Call health care providers for direction. They need to try to give hospitals or doctors’ offices a heads up, so they can prepare so they don’t expose others.
EXPECT TO SEE A JUMP IN THE NUMBERS AS TESTING IS DONE FASTER
Karyn: As we get the numbers from noon to 7 p.m. -- backlog in numbers?
Gov. Kemp: Every day the private sector and us are getting faster at testing. Logical numbers will come quicker now. Dr. Burke talked about getting to a point in this country testing baseline levels. It's not going to be until we get to that point whether our curve is going up or curve going down. I think we have another six to seven days before we get there. I tell people try not to read too much into these numbers right now – making sure other communities don't have that by practicing social distancing; don't go to large events. Two recent outbreaks affected persons who went to a funeral, another went to a wedding. I’m signing an order Monday to stop gathering of large events. I know that's hard on our faith community -- pushing pastors to have online services, drive-in church...things we need to do next few weeks, possibly month to get through this.
SHELTER-IN-PLACE -- WHY NO STATE MANDATE?
Karyn: You mentioned something in the order you just signed. Why there's no real blanket guidelines on closures for schools and restaurants in Georgia.
Gov. Kemp: Well, I certainly support Mayor Bottoms and what she did. I’ve been in discussions with her, she's in a completely different situation in the city of Atlanta than I am. I think there was an issue with restaurants and bars, large gatherings, young people not paying attention to this very much. I was on a call with Albany County commission 10 days ago and I asked if they needed me to do anything. He said let us handle it on the local level. I participated in a call with other counties...taking action to stop the spread...right now I want to keep that balance of allowing the locals to handle the problem but also keep our economy going and our hardworking people out there where it makes sense to do that.
Karyn: Let's talk Sterigenics governor – you received a letter from the FDA commission asking you to re-open the Sterigenics plant in Cobb County. Have you responded to that letter?
Gov. Kemp: I let them know that the State of Georgia was ready to open that up. There was a small issue Cobb County had to handle...told they had that handled...there's a lot of medical supplies they need to move to the marketplace. National public health emergency. We're trying to work with them to get opened in the next day or two.
Karyn: It's interesting in reading the letter, it spoke of sterilizing gowns, gloves, PPEs...are those sterilizable?
Gov. Kemp: The process is pretty interesting...they come in packaged on a palette, you just run the palette through a sterilization process and they get sterilized. Don't ask me how that works ...but that is how the process works and that's what they're trying to get opened up. Make sure we’re protecting neighbors and other one down in BD Plant as well. We feel good about the new protocols and procedures we have in for them to be able to operate and also to protect the neighbors.
Karyn: Are you requesting any federal aid to get more medical equipment like ventilators?
Gov. Kemp: We're not only requesting federal aid, we're also going after it ourselves. We’re appreciative to legislative 100 million in emergency funds…using it to buy PPE equipment.... we’ve received equipment and getting it out to the state from the strategic national stockpile. We've got a whole team at the state operations center that's working on that.
TWO HEALTHCARE WORKERS THAT DIED
Karyn: Now governor, what can you say about the two healthcare workers that have died with coronavirus symptoms?
Gov. Kemp: I wouldn't want to talk about the persons individually, but we grieve with their families. As of yesterday, I haven't asked this question today but as of yesterday everyone one of the deaths we've had in this state there were also underlying health conditions or an age component that put them in a medically fragile or risky population.
ENFORCING SOCIAL DISTANCING AND SHELTER-IN-PLACE ORDERS
Karyn: How are you able to enforce the stay at home orders, the social distancing?
Gov. Kemp: I would hope we wouldn't have to enforce it and I would wish our people would do the right thing and not put us in a position to do that. But mark my words, if we have somebody that tests us on that, we will make an example of that. I don't want to have to do that, but the Department of Public Health is issuing guidelines... we do have a mechanism through the Department of Public Health and we will use if needed.
WILL THE U.S. BE BACK ON TRACK BY EASTER?
Karyn: Lastly, the president said yesterday he hopes the country can be ready to go by Easter. What are your thoughts on that?
Gov. Kemp: I wish we could open today. But whether it's Easter or whether it's a week after that we got to get this economy back roaring like it was before this happened and I believe it's going to happen. I'm doing everything in my power to get our citizens to do what we're asking of them, so we can flatten the curve and be headed the other way and get our people back to work. I will be ready to move when the time is right and certainly support the president's optimism in that.