Through no COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in Bulloch County, Bulloch Academy announced Saturday the school would close for the next two weeks as a precautionary step.
“We will be monitoring the situation closely and will update our families as the situation progresses,” said Morgan Conner, public relations director for Bulloch Academy, which will be closed through March 29.
Meanwhile, Georgia's governor warned Saturday that COVID-19 infections are increasing in the state as he signed an emergency declaration unlocking sweeping powers to fight the disease threat.
Republican Brian Kemp said the number of cases caused by the new coronavirus rose to 66 Saturday from 42 on Friday, which he said was the largest numerical increase in a 24-hour-period since Georgia detected its first case.
“In Bartow, Cobb and DeKalb counties, the number of cases doubled overnight," Kemp said. "We have to remain vigilant, especially for our most vulnerable populations.”
A 67-year-old man who died earlier this week at a Marietta hospital was the first Georgia fatality, and cases so far are concentrated in metro Atlanta and northwest Georgia. The governor said he was signing the emergency declaration in part because he fears a surge in cases that might overwhelm the state's hospitals.
“The capacity of our health care system remains at the forefront of my mind as we prepare for local transmission," Kemp said.
Kemp said the state Public Health Department was currently performing 100 tests a day, with plans to ramp up capacity to 200 tests a day by the end of next week. He also said independent test sites would be set up next week in various parts of the state.
Also, the state has set up a website to track COVID-19 in Georgia: https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report
School, church closings
In the Saturday speech, the governor renewed his call for churches, synagogues and temples to join schools and others in preventing public gatherings.
“We have called on faith-based organizations to consider cancellation of services to mitigate the risk of transmission," Kemp said.
First Baptist Church of Statesboro announced Saturday afternoon that Sunday services would be streamed only and asked church members to remain at home.
Already, school districts covering about 1.3 million of Georgia's 1.8 million public school students have announced closures. Most are closed for at least two weeks beginning Monday, with hopes of teaching online. All districts in metro Atlanta are closed, although school systems in some other parts of the state including Augusta and Columbus remain open.
Bulloch County public schools announced Friday they would remain open, for now, and monitor the situation closely, said Hayley Greene, public relations director for the school system.
Georgia Southern University and East Georgia State College are on spring break and will suspend instruction and classes through March 29. The University System of Georgia has asked all state colleges and universities to study and refine their capability of teaching classes online during the next two weeks.
Ogeechee Technical College, which also is on spring break, announced no suspension of classes on campus, at this time, but would monitor the situation moving forward.
Kemp called for a special session of the General Assembly to convene Monday to ratify the emergency action through a joint resolution. More than 20 states have declared emergencies over the virus.
Kemp’s move Saturday constitutes Georgia’s first ever public health emergency, state officials said.
“I do not take this action lightly,’’ Kemp said. “We must remain supportive of one another [and] pray for our fellow Americans. We are in this fight together.’’
The Georgia declaration follows President Trump’s declaration Friday of a national emergency to free up $50 billion in federal resources to combat coronavirus.
Trump said he was “urging every state to set up emergency operations centers effective immediately.”
All the states but one have reported positive tests for COVID-19, with more than 2,500 cases across America. At least 51 people have died — 37 in Washington state, which now reports at least 568 cases; five in California, two in Florida, one each in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey and South Dakota. Two other deaths were reported, but not the states.
Bulloch County decision
County Manager Tom Couch announced Saturday that “I will invoke my vested authority as Chief Budget Officer, and within the county procurement policies to initially set-aside $100,000 for the Bulloch County Health Department for emergency purchases necessary for COVID-19 mitigation.”
Couch said the funds would be set aside for “emergency purchases needed for strictly public health purposes … Though the local threat is low, it is a precautionary step. Going forward, I will ask the Board of Commissioners for additional increments if it should become necessary.
I have recommended that we will rely on the Bulloch County Health Department to determine where these local funds should be applied, if needed.”