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Tuesday April 7th, 2020 9:15PM

Georgia infections cross 1,000 as new rules urged for cities

By The Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Georgia pushed past 1,000 Tuesday, with deaths rising to 32, as the state's cities were urged to impose more restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

The number of positive results surged to 1,026, or 28% over Monday evening's numbers, with southwest Georgia's Dougherty County still reporting the highest per-capita numbers, according to the state Department of Public Health. Infections there rose to 90.

The Georgia Municipal Association is advising all of the state's 538 cities to order overnight curfews and close gyms, movie theaters and other businesses.

The association weighed in as new a new order by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp took affect that shuts down bars and nightclubs, prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people and orders people who are most at risk of illness or might have been exposed to shelter at home.

Kemp has favored letting local governments decide whether to require stricter limitations. His statewide actions fall short of those issued in most other states, despite pressure from some lawmakers and health experts for tougher measures.

The threat the new virus poses to Georgia's economy and health care system "is far greater if stringent measures aren’t put in place across the state to slow the spread of this virus,” Dublin Mayor Phil Best, the municipal association's president, said in a news release.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be deadly in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators, stressing the health care system's capacity to respond.

The state Department of Public Health on Tuesday called for volunteers with and without medical training. Medically-trained volunteers may be used to answer COVID-19 questions by phone or help at testing sites. Nonmedical volunteers may be used for administrative or other help.

The association's model ordinance would impose nightly curfews from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., allow only takeout or delivery orders from restaurants, and shut down gyms, theaters, salons, social clubs and other businesses.

Some local governments including Atlanta, Albany and surrounding Dougherty County, and Athens-Clark County have already adopted restrictions that go beyond those ordered by Kemp statewide. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Tuesday said he was imposing stay-at-home restrictions in the coastal city beginning Wednesday.

"While Governor Kemp’s executive actions announced yesterday addressed some of the critical needs in our state, I do not feel that it goes far enough in ensuring the health and safety of our citizens,” Johnson told a news conference Tuesday.

Democrats in the state House also signed a letter to Kemp urging stronger restrictions.

“We must be proactive in the fight against this ‘invisible enemy’ and protect our citizens,” Democrats wrote in a letter posted Monday.

Even some Republicans are voicing support for further measures, with Georgia House Speaker David Ralston of Blue Ridge telling news outlet Fetch Your News on Monday that “if we overreact, thank God, we overreact.”

“You hate to contemplate a shutdown because you know it's going to cause economic pain, and it's going to cause economic pain to people I care about,” Ralston said. “But I would prefer that over hearing of them becoming very ill or dying.”

Some leaders support the go-slow approach, though, in hopes of limiting economic damage. Dalton Mayor David Pennington has said he chose his words poorly when he called concerns about COVID-19 hysteria. But he's not backing down from his point that shutting down too much could cause catastrophic economic damage.

“If we flatten our economy, it’s a whole lot easier to shut an economy down than it is to get it started up, and you have to pay for this," Pennington told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The Georgia Department of Labor has said unemployment filings are running much higher than normal, although the department says it won't release weekly numbers until Thursday. But more than a dozen businesses have filed notices with the state in the last week that they're laying off more than 1,200 employees, including a number of hotel, restaurants and child care facilities.

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Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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