Riley Bunch | CNHI 

Gov. Brian Kemp orders Georgians to shelter in place and closes schools for the remainder of the academic year Wednesday in Atlanta.

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday a statewide shelter-in-place order to curb spread of COVID-19 after weeks of hesitancy.

The order will be signed Friday and be in effect until April 13.

Kemp is also extending the closure of K-12 public schools through the end of the school year.

Updated information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the spread across Georgia was "game-changing," Kemp said.

“At this point it’s the right thing to do,” he said of his orders.

Kemp said the statewide order is to flatten the curve and lessen spread so hospitals aren’t pushed to a breaking point. Anyone who is found breaking the order can be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine.

“We are taking action to protect our hospitals, to help our medical providers and prepare for the patient surge that we know is coming,” Kemp said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “This action will ensure uniformity across jurisdictions for Georgia sheltering in place and help families and businesses be able to comply with its provisions.”

Local elected officials have taken steps beyond Kemp to put residents in their areas under shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders citing the reluctance of Kemp to issue the same rules statewide.

“Now is the time to fight and continue to be strong and courageous,” the governor said. “We are in this together. We are going to win this together. And we're not going to leave anyone alone. So be strong and courageous.”

Kemp defended his decision to mandate a shelter-in-place for vulnerable populations and limits on gatherings of 10 or more instead of making the call earlier to institute a statewide shutdown.

“I think what we had in place earlier were exactly what health care professionals were asking us to do,” he said.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, Department of Public Health commissioner, said new information about the spread of the virus was the tipping point.

Toomey said previous models used by the state’s epidemiologists were based on infected individuals spreading disease but now after the pattern of rapid spread across Georgia in nursing homes, at funeral services and in faith-based congregations, it’s time for Georgia to take increased measures.

“Now is a time to stop that transmission before the hospitals get overrun,” she said.

Both Kemp and Toomey praised Georgians who have been taking social distancing guidelines seriously, but hopes this is a message to others to take the pandemic more seriously.

Toomey said she still knows people who compare coronavirus to the flu.

“This is absolutely not just like the flu,” she said. “It is many more times more transmissible and it is much more deadly. And we have absolutely no immunity to this. We don’t have a vaccine. Our bodies haven’t been exposed to this, and we can’t fight it off.”

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