Governor Brian Kemp’s message to the community following his tour of Hall County on Friday was two-fold- thanking community members for their hard work and encouraging them to keep it up.
“Number one, thank you for what you’ve been doing, thank you for your response, thank you for heading the advice of our public health officials…number two, my advice is to tell them to keep doing what you’re doing,” said Kemp.
Kemp praised the “good people of Gainesville” and held up a t-shirt with the phrase displayed on the front. The t-shirts are part of a fundraiser created by Gainesville native Louis Hokayem to raise money for local non-profits which help community members directly impacted by COVID-19.
“I know [Hall County] well, I know they’re hard-working people, I know it’s a great community,” said Governor Kemp.
Over the last few weeks, Hall County has emerged as a hotspot for COVID-19 and the governor visited several locations in Gainesville that have been especially impacted by the pandemic.
The governor made his remarks following a tour of the new medical pod unit under construction at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. The mobile pods will act as a hospital for patients that test positive for COVID-19 and are scheduled to open May 26th.
The governor made similar remarks at two other stops prior to his tour of the medical pod unit. The governor stopped by the Fieldale Farms plant on Monroe Drive in Gainesville first to tour the facility and get a better understanding of how the pandemic is affecting workers in the poultry industry.
Much of the concern for the outbreak in Hall County has centered around the county’s large Hispanic community. Over half the county's confirmed cases are in the Hispanic community.
Governor Kemp praised officials that have been working with the Latino community to educate them about the virus and prevention measures.
"That's what makes me so proud of this community," Kemp said. "There are a lot of people that have been working on this in the community."
The governor highlighted some of the measures Fieldale has taken to prevent contamination at the plant, including temperature checks at the entrance to the plant and plexiglass partitions that help keep workers from direct contact. He said breakroom tables also had Plexiglass dividers to workers could interact with each other in a safe way.
Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John King accompanied the governor on his tour of the county and also praised local leaders for their help with educating the Hispanic community.
“I’m really proud of that because they’ve taken personal responsibility to flatten this rate of infection,” said King.
One action that local leaders of the Hispanic have taken is to set up a testing site in the parking lot of La Flor de Jalisco along Atlanta Highway. Governor Kemp stopped by the testing site Friday and wasted no time, heading towards a group of volunteers who were welcoming patrons and providing testing instruction, as well as offering free face masks to those needing them
The governor stopped an appropriate social distance from the volunteers, clapped his hands and thanked them for their efforts.
Kemp then spoke briefly to those in the crowd; State Insurance Commissioner Major General John King translated Kemp’s words for the largely Hispanic audience.
“Let me thank the whole community for working together to really take a situation that could have been really, really bad and making it a lot better,” Kemp said. “The numbers we are seeing now are fantastic.”
Norma Hernandez with the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce has been a driving force behind getting members of the Hispanic community to take the warnings of health officials seriously. She spoke after Kemp and said she was proud of the way the Hispanic community has become actively involved in stopping the spread of COVID-19 and had shown up in large numbers to be tested.
“Our message to our community has to be in simple words,” Hernandez said. “We don’t need to use medical terms…we need to make it simple, and the message is, ‘Let’s get healthy. Let’s get back to work.’”
“We were getting sick,” Hernandez continued, but that has reversed itself. “It [COVID-19] is stopping here, people! We are taking charge. It is stopping right here!”
Her words drew the applause of all in the crowd including Governor Kemp.
By 1:00 p.m. nearly 600 tests had been completed and officials were hoping hundreds more would stop by before the day was finished.
Towards the end of his time in Gainesville, Kemp encouraged community members to continue social distance.
"All of those things have helped us weather the virus in those local communities, flatten the curve, get to the other side of it," Kemp said. "We were never in a situation where we didn't have a ventilator or a hospital bed for a patient that needed it in our state, and I'm grateful for that."