ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday he's extending his order for Georgia residents to shelter at home through the end of April as the number of coronavirus infections confirmed statewide neared 10,000.
Kemp also announced he's requiring nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to take more rigid steps to screen staff and patients for symptoms and to keep facilities disinfected. He's also placing a temporary ban on short-term vacation rentals starting Thursday in response to local officials who fear tourists are flocking to Georgia to take advantage of open beaches and parks.
"While I'm encouraged by some of the recent data, we still have incredible challenges ahead of us," Kemp told a news conference at the state Capitol.
The announcements came as the number of infections from the new virus topped 9,900 in Georgia, with the number of confirmed deaths rising to 362, according to figures released Wednesday by the state Department of Public Health.
Kemp made the moves as he also renewed the public health emergency declared last month to be extended through May 13. It had been set to expire Monday.
State lawmakers last month granted Kemp temporary emergency powers and allowed the governor to renew them without reconvening the full legislature for a vote. Lawmakers had planned for an April 15 special session to consider any extension by Kemp, but House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said that wouldn't happen now. They both issued statements supporting the extension.
Several legislators have tested positive for the virus since they last met.
Wednesday's higher case count was the result of 5,000 more tests, as the state continues to try to ramp up testing capacity.
The highest per-capita concentration of cases continued to be in southwest Georgia. Randolph County, with 82 confirmed cases, reports an infection rate more than 12 times the state average according to Associated Press calculations. Dougherty County, which includes Albany, now has the state's second-highest infection rate, with nearly 1,000 cases in a county with less than 100,000 residents. Dougherty County has recorded 61 deaths, most statewide.
Fulton County, the state's most populous county, continues to report the largest number of cases with more than 1,200 overall.
Using his emergency powers, Kemp has closed public schools through the end of the academic year and ordered Georgia residents to shelter at home except under prescribed circumstances such as working essential jobs and grocery shopping. He has prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people and closed businesses including bars and nightclubs, gyms, movie theaters and hair salons. Restaurants can only serve meals for takeout or delivery.
Kemp's shelter-at-home order last week also rolled back any emergency restrictions imposed by cities or counties that went beyond the limitations ordered by the governor. Kemp said Wednesday that all provisions of that order will remain in effect through April 30.
Some mayors and county commissioners have vocally criticized Kemp for that step, which reversed the closure of beaches on the coast as well as locally imposed halts to vacation rentals. Kemp said Wednesday that he was prohibiting new short-term vacation rental bookings for the rest of April as a nod to local officials "who fear that our state is becoming a vacation destination."
Kemp's order on vacation rentals affects homes rented through third parties but does not apply to hotels, motels or campgrounds, the governor said.
Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said Wednesday he keeps hearing from residents who want tougher safeguards, such as a curfew, but Kemp's order has stripped the city of the power to impose anything new.
"Whatever measures we could have implemented before the governor's executive order are no longer an option," Dorough told a news conference. "The public needs to understand."
Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.