Coronavirus prompts new convention delegate selection plan for Georgia Democrats

State Sen. Nikema Williams, chairwoman, Democratic Party of Georgia

ATLANTA – The Democratic Party of Georgia is adjusting its schedule for selecting delegates to the party’s national convention this summer in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reflecting the postponement of the Democratic presidential primary until June 9, the deadline for congressional district-level delegate hopefuls to file for candidacy is April 30. District-level elections will take place May 23.

Party leaders, elected officials and Democrats wishing to serve as at-large delegates must file for candidacy by May 28, with elections set for June 20.

Also, all voting is being converted from in person to online, so Georgians can elect delegates from home.

“Our team has worked around the clock to adjust to our new normal and make sure that we can protect the health and safety of Georgians while making our delegate selection process open to all,” said state Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, the party’s state chairwoman. “Our new virtual delegate selection model will help us make participation more accessible to all Georgians and build the most diverse delegation in Georgia history.”

All meetings of the Georgia delegation also will take place online, as will all district-level delegate elections.

After the June 9 primary, delegates will be allocated based on the percentage of the vote each presidential candidate receives.

The Democratic National Convention is set to take place Aug. 17-20 in Milwaukee.

Gov. Kemp undecided on when to end Georgia shelter-in-place

Coronavirus has sickened thousands of people and killed hundreds in Georgia. (Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

ATLANTA – Ahead of an April 30 end to the state’s shelter-in-place order, Gov. Brian Kemp urged Georgians to continue social distancing and to seek testing if they experience common coronavirus symptoms like coughing, fever and shortness of breath.

At a news conference Monday, Kemp did not say whether he will extend the statewide shelter-in-place order beyond Thursday, when it is set to end. The order has already been extended once since it was first issued on April 3.

He noted only that the order is currently scheduled to end after April 30 and that he plans to make a decision later this week on what to do next.

“I just haven’t made those decisions yet,” Kemp said.

The governor did say, however, that elderly persons and those with chronic health issues will likely need to continue sheltering-in-place well into mid-May, and perhaps for longer than that.

Georgia’s shelter-in-place order has required people to remain at home except for essential errands like grocery runs and to exercise, and for most businesses to limit their operations only to levels that will keep them financially afloat.

As businesses start slowly reopening, Kemp and the state’s public health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, stressed that anyone in Georgia who is experiencing common coronavirus symptoms can now receive a diagnostic test. On Monday, Kemp called on those with symptoms to “take us up on this offer.”

“We have the tests, we have the physicians, we have the sites and we have the bandwidth,” Kemp said. “What we need right now is to have more Georgians participate.”

Testing was previously limited to the state’s most vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with chronic health issues, as well as health-care workers and first responders. In recent weeks, state health officials along with Georgia National Guard members have ramped up testing through mobile clinics and partnerships with companies like Walmart and CVS.

Now, everyone can be tested who shows symptoms including fever, coughing, difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell.

“We have plenty of testing capacity,” Toomey said Monday. “And we are ramping up our contact tracing capacity.”

As of 3 p.m. Monday, nearly 24,000 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 971 Georgians.

Kemp has faced fierce criticism for his decision to allow several close-quarter businesses to reopen this week and last following weeks of mandatory closures. Those businesses include dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, barbershops, gyms and more.

Other establishments like bars, nightclubs and amusement parks will remain close for the time being, Kemp said Monday.

Many health experts and local elected leaders have criticized the reopening decision in light of Georgia’s relatively low testing data compared to other states and a lack of so-called “contact tracing,” which helps officials better pinpoint where outbreaks may be occurring.

Kemp defended his approach as “a measured step forward” that is an option, not a requirement, for struggling businesses to reopen under a host of operational restrictions like physical distancing and routine sanitizing.

“I didn’t order anybody to open any business,” Kemp said Monday. “I simply gave people the opportunity that literally were on the verge, many of them, of losing everything they’ve got.”

Kemp also brushed aside scrutiny over comments made last week by President Donald Trump, who said he was “not happy” with the governor’s reopening plan, specifically mentioning spas as problematic.

Kemp said the state largely has been following federal guidelines for deciding when to let businesses reopen, while also weighing input from local health officials as well as the dire financial situation facing many business owners who have been shuttered for weeks.

“We are looking at depression-like unemployment,” Kemp said. “It has all tumbled off a cliff like it has in every state. But we will come back, and we will come back even stronger.”

Georgia welcomes 800 new Amazon jobs in midst of coronavirus-driven downturn

ATLANTA – While many Georgia businesses have struggled during the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Amazon is expanding its already robust presence in the state.

The Seattle-based e-commerce giant announced Monday plans for a new fulfillment center in Columbia County that will create 800 full-time jobs.

Workers at the new facility along Interstate 20 in Appling will use innovative robotics technology to pack and ship smaller customer orders, including books, toys and small household goods.

Amazon already has more than 3,500 employees in Georgia working at facilities in Jefferson, Braselton, Lithia Springs, East Point, Kennesaw, Macon and Union City, representing an investment of $3.6 billion. The company plans to add another 1,000 at a new fulfillment enter in Stone Mountain and 500 at the Newnan fulfillment center announced in January.

“We are proud to continue our investment in Georgia with great jobs and a new, state-of-the-art fulfillment center in Columbia County to serve our customers across the state,” said Robert Packett, regional director of Amazon operations. “The Peach State and its incredible workforce have been vital to our ability to provide great selection, competitive prices and the Prime services we know our customers love.”

Pat Wilson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic Development, welcomed the additional investment and job growth Amazon will bring to Georgia.

“Especially now, during COVID-19, we are proud of our team’s hard work to continuously meet the needs of world-renowned companies like Amazon,” he said. “We are also grateful for our economic development partners in Columbia County and the region, who again have shown their strong commitment throughout this project.”

Hank Evans, the economic development department’s assistant director, represented the agency’s Global Commerce Division in landing the project, in partnership with Georgia EMC and the Development Authority of Columbia County.

Gov. Kemp holds coronavirus prayer service at Capitol

Gov. Brian Kemp held a prayer service at the Georgia Capitol Monday morning as restaurants were given the green light to reopen amid ongoing concerns over coronavirus.

More than a dozen faith leaders, almost all from Christian churches, spoke inside the Capitol building. While the service was not open to the public, it was well-viewed online with more 11,000 people at one point tuning in to a live video stream on Facebook.

The speakers prayed for the health and safety of Georgians, as well as for the state’s elected officials to make wise decisions as Georgia slowly resumes business operations.

Kemp called for prayers for health-care workers, first responders, law enforcement officials and “the everyday Georgian driving a truck or manning a check-out line at a grocery store.”

“This virus has caused sickness, death and great loss in our state as well as across the country,” Kemp said. “But it has also shown us the power of unity, of caring for our neighbors and the unyielding will of our state and our nation.”

As of noon Monday, nearly 24,000 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It has killed 942 Georgians.

Kemp has faced criticism over the past week for allowing dine-in restaurants to reopen Monday following weeks of mandatory statewide closures aimed at giving hospitals and health officials time to combat the highly infectious virus. Other businesses like gyms, barbershops and bowling alleys were permitted to reopen last Friday.

The governor has framed the phased-in reopening as a “measured action” that will help businesses get back on their feet after weeks of financial turmoil brought on by the forced closures.

Convened by Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the prayer service Monday came hours ahead of a news conference in which the governor is set to give an update on the state’s coronavirus response.

Some speakers like Rev. Kenneth Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, called for protections for “essential workers” in restaurants, hospitals and elsewhere who face risks from coronavirus in the workplace.

“Let no one’s low unemployment or lack of health care force them to have to choose between feeding their families or exposing their families to the coronavirus,” Samuel said.

Others like Rev. Deb Trimpe, associate pastor of Alps Road Presbyterian Church in Athens, urged unity among Georgians and to “set aside anger and acrimony” spurred by political divisions that have been aggravated by the virus.

“Remind us today that we are not Republican or Democrat,” Trimpe said Monday. “We are not red or blue. We are first Georgians and we are neighbors together.”

State launching rotating COVID-19 mobile testing

(Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

ATLANTA – A  mobile COVID-19 testing unit will begin rotating between the Augusta area, Milledgeville and Tifton starting Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Sunday.

The new initiative is an effort to increase access to testing for coronavirus in parts of Georgia where tests have not been readily available , Kemp said.

“”Serving Augusta, Milledgeville, Tifton, and the surrounding regions, this mobile unit will be a game-changing step in our efforts to ensure access to COVID-19 across Georgia,” the governor said. “Increased testing is critical as we continue the measured process of safely reopening parts of our state.”

The new drive-through sites will be supported by Walmart, eTrueNorth – a federal health-care contractor – and state and local officials.

The sites will test Georgians who are showing signs of COVID-19 as well as first responders, whether or not they have symptoms of the virus. While appointments can be made at, on-site scheduling also will be available.

Those being tested should remain in their cars for verification of eligibility criteria and an ID check. The test will not be available to people on foot.

A self-administered nasal swab will be used to conduct the test. However a trained medical professional will observe to make sure the test is done correctly.

Processing of tests will be handled by eTrueNorth, which will send results to those tested. The sites will be staffed by volunteers, including Walmart health-care professionals and eTrueNorth team members.

Weather permitting, tests will be conducted Mondays and Tuesdays at Diamond Lakes Regional Park in Hephzibah, Wednesdays and Saturdays across from 240 Lawrence Road in Milledgeville, and Thursdays and Fridays at the Tift County National Guard Armory in Tifton.