Georgia COVID-19 cases hit new high

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp ordered up to 2,500 Georgia National Guard troops to prepare for deployment Tuesday as the state set a record high for coronavirus cases, Atlanta’s WGCL-TV reported Tuesday.

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) reported 13,670 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 or likely cases detected by positive antigen rapid tests, the highest total since early January.

The spike came as the highly contagious omicron variant of the virus first detected in Georgia more than three weeks ago continued to spread rapidly.

Atlanta officials reacted to the surge in cases by canceling the city’s annual New Year’s Eve Peach Drop for the third year in a row. Elsewhere, Emory University announced the spring semester will begin with classes conducted online.

The National Guard troops are expected to be assigned to areas where they’re most needed, including hospitals and testing sites, which have seen long lines during the last couple of weeks.

Kemp last deployed the National Guard to respond to the COVID-19 crisis during a surge in cases in August. Before that, Guard troops were sent to hard-hit nursing homes during the early days of the pandemic in March of last year.

There have been nearly 1.8 million confirmed or likely cases of COVID-19 in Georgia since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to the DPH. The virus has hospitalized 93,893 Georgians and resulted in 4,984 probable deaths.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Oglethorpe County ranks tops in Georgia for small businesses

ATLANTA – Oglethorpe County has the strongest small business presence in Georgia, according to a new study.

The report, compiled by the New York City-based financial technology company SmartAsset, ranked counties by the percentage of total tax returns filed by small business owners and the percentage of income derived from small businesses.

Oglethorpe scored 65.65 on the study’s Small Business Index, by far the top overall score among Georgia counties. It did so by finishing first with small businesses accounting for 19.71% of total income and second with 35.59% of the county’s tax returns coming from small businesses.

Habersham County was No. 1 with 36.55% of its tax returns generated by small businesses, but the county scored fourth overall with a Small Business Index score of 51.53.

Gilmer County had the second-highest Small Business Index score with a mark of 54.13, while Gwinnett County was a close third at 54.06.

Unlike the last SmartAsset study of small businesses in Georgia, which was done last spring, counties from across the state made the top 10 Small Business Index scores in the new report. In the April study, nine of the 10 Georgia counties with the highest scores were located either in metro Atlanta, along Interstate 20 east of the metro region or in the North Georgia mountains.

Here is the top-10 list from the SmartAsset study:

County        Small business returns Small business income Score

Oglethorpe 35.59%       19.71%       65.65

Gilmer         34.90%       12.67%       54.13

Gwinnett     33.64%       13.44%       54.06

Habersham          36.55%       9.93%         51.53

Fayette       32.18%       12.04%       50.46

Murray        33.91%       9.56%         48.36

Coffee        32.93%       9.75%         47.67

Baldwin       25.64%       13.82%       46.72

Randolph   32.29%       9.31%         46.36

Montgomery         28.38%       11.61%       46.02

Source: SmartAsset

Here is a link to the full report:

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Biden administration nixes Georgia Medicaid waiver over work requirement

Gov. Brian Kemp proposed a Medicaid waiver program in 2019 that includes a work requirement. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – The Biden administration Thursday rejected Georgia’s bid to make a limited expansion of Medicaid subject to a work requirement.

The state proposed the work requirement as part of a demonstration waiver from provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The waiver was approved by the Trump administration last year.

After putting the waiver on hold last winter, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) raised objections in a letter to the state Thursday, citing disruptions resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Georgia’s work requirements significantly compromise the state demonstration’s effectiveness in promoting coverage for intended beneficiaries,” the agency stated in a news release. “The lingering health consequences of COVID-19 infections further exacerbate the harms of these barriers to coverage for people with low income.”

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp rolled out Georgia Pathways, the state’s alternative to the ACA, two years ago. The program would provide health coverage to Georgians who work or volunteer at least 80 hours per month.

For those eligible, the state either would cover their portion of an employer-based health plan or, if they can’t get health insurance though their jobs, it would enroll them in Medicaid.

The program would cover Georgians who earn annual incomes of up to 100% of the federal poverty level.

A spokeswoman for Kemp expressed disappointment in the administration’s decision to reject the waiver and vowed to appeal.

“Georgia proposed and received approval to implement an innovative waiver that would expand coverage and access in a fiscally conservative way,” said Katie Byrd, the governor’s communications director. “Though they attempted to hide behind the holiday in announcing two days before Christmas, we plan to challenge their misguided – likely political – decision in a court of law.”

The full expansion of Medicaid in the ACA supported by Democrats does not include a work requirement and covers adults with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level. All but 12 states have adopted a full Medicaid expansion.

A provision in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act now before the U.S. Senate would let low-income residents in states that have not approved a full Medicaid expansion receive coverage.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the legislation. However, opposition from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., threatens to sink the bill in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Port of Brunswick lands $14.6 million federal grant

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg

ATLANTA – The Port of Brunswick is receiving a $14.6 million grant to add a fourth roll-on/roll-off vessel berth at the Colonel’s Island Terminal, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Thursday.  

The project will address supply chain challenges at the nation’s second busiest Ro-Ro cargo port and more efficiently accommodate the larger 7,000-plus-unit vehicle carrier vessels that are becoming the industry standard for Ro-Ro ships calling at U.S. ports.

The grant to Brunswick is among a $241 million grant package for 25 port improvement projects in 19 states and one U.S. territory.

“U.S. maritime ports play a critical role in our supply chains,” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said Thursday. “These investments in our nation’s ports will help support American jobs, efficient and resilient operations and faster delivery of goods to the American people.”

The projects are aimed at meeting growing demand for goods brought on by the reopening of the U.S. economy following the pandemic lockdown. The Colonel’s Island Terminal has become No.-1 in the country for new auto imports.

Going forward, federal funding for the nation’s ports will come through the infrastructure bill Congress passed last month, which will provide $450 million annually for the next five fiscal years.

That’s roughly the same amount of federal funding provided to ports under DOT-administered grant programs since the agency began providing funding to ports in 2009. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Politics, pandemic dominate Georgia news headlines in 2021

ATLANTA – From upset victories by Democrats in two U.S. Senate runoffs in January to the December launch of a rare primary challenge of a sitting governor, politics dominated Georgia’s news landscape in 2021. 

Only the ups and downs of the coronavirus pandemic gripping Georgia for a second year vied for attention with the partisan fallout from the 2020 presidential election early in 2021 and the opening salvos of a Republican civil war that marked the second half of the year.

Here’s a look at the Top Ten Georgia stories from 2021:

All year … The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the headlines, with Georgia suffering through a spike of the virus during the summer caused by the delta variant and a December surge in cases driven by the new omicron variant. Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr sue the Biden administration over federal vaccine mandates for federal contractors, health-care workers and businesses with 100 or more employees.

January 5 … Democrats capture both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats, as Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock defeat incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Ossoff and Warnock become the first Georgia Democrats elected statewide since 2006.

January 6 … At the U.S. Capitol amid an attack launched by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Georgia’s 16 Electoral College votes are cast for Democrat Joe Biden. The certification of the Georgia votes for Biden comes after Donald Trump fails to enlist the help of two fellow Republicans, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, to overturn the results. Biden is the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992.

March 25 … The Republican-controlled General Assembly passes a controversial overhaul of Georgia’s election laws. Senate Bill 202 replaces the signature-match verification process for absentee ballots with an ID requirement, restricts the location of ballot drop boxes and prohibits non-poll workers from handing out food and drinks within 150 feet of voters standing in line.

April 26 … Initial numbers from the 2020 U.S. Census put Georgia’s population at 10.7 million, up about 1 million since 2010. That’s not enough growth to qualify for a 15th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the first decade Georgia hasn’t gained congressional seats following a census since the 1980s.

August 25 … University of Georgia football icon Herschel Walker enters the Republican primary for U.S. Senate at the urging of Trump, a friend of Walker since he signed with the United States Football League team owned by Trump in 1983.

November 22 … The General Assembly concludes a special session to redraw Georgia’s congressional and legislative districts. While Georgia has become divided almost equally between Republican and Democratic voters, the new congressional map is projected to give the GOP a 9-5 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation and help Republicans maintain control of the legislature, although with smaller majorities.

November 24 … A Glynn County jury convicts three white men of murder in the 2020 shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, near Brunswick. Greg McMichael, his son Travis, and William “Roddie” Bryan are found guilty on multiple counts of murder by a jury made up of 11 white jurors and one Black juror after 11 hours of deliberation[DW1] .

December 6 … Former U.S. Sen. David Perdue announces he will challenge Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 Republican gubernatorial primary. The May contest will pit Perdue – a Trump ally – against Kemp, who angered Trump by refusing to cooperate with his efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential results.

December 16 … Electric-vehicle startup Rivian announces plans to build a manufacturing plant off Interstate 20 east of Atlanta, a deal touted as the largest economic development project in Georgia history. The $5 billion investment is expected to create 7,500 jobs.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.