From reopenings to masks, how Georgia Gov. Kemp has handled the coronavirus pandemic

The governor most recently sued the Atlanta mayor over her mask mandate.

July 21, 2020, 4:04 AM

Since officials announced Georgia's first confirmed cases of COVID-19 on March 2, the state has drawn national attention over the coronavirus pandemic. It was one of the first states in the country to begin reopening its economy, and has since joined others in pausing its phased approach amid rising numbers of new cases and hospitalizations.

Most recently, its Republican governor, Brian Kemp, has become engaged in a legal dispute with the mayor of Atlanta over mask mandates, which more states and cities have been issuing as coronavirus cases rise.

As of Monday, Georgia had 145,575 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,176 deaths, according to state data. Hospitalizations have also steadily increased since mid-June. The state reported a record number of new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, with 4,689.

Here's a look at some of the key moments in Kemp's handling of the coronavirus pandemic so far.

Feb. 28

With COVID-19 spreading around the globe, including in the United States, Kemp announces the creation of a coronavirus task force to assess the state's preparedness in addressing the virus.

March 2

In a late-night press conference, Kemp announces Georgia's first cases of COVID-19, involving two residents of Fulton County in the same household, one of whom had recently returned from Italy. The state health department later determines that Georgia had cases as early as Feb. 1.

Governor Brian Kemp holds a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, July 17, 2020.
Nathan Posner/REX via Shutterstock

March 12

The governor directs state agencies to implement teleworking policies and suspend nonessential travel for most state employees. The same day, the state reports its first death from COVID-19 -- a 63-year-old man who had underlying medical conditions. Later, the health department updates its data to report that the first death was on March 5.

March 14

With 64 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, Kemp declares a public health state of emergency. He also authorizes up to 2,000 National Guard troops to assist in the emergency response.

March 16

Kemp signs an executive order closing all elementary, secondary and post-secondary public schools from March 18 to March 31.

March 19

Per federal and state health officials, Kemp urges that the state start prioritizing COVID-19 tests "for our most vulnerable populations," first responders and healthcare workers, in an effort to conserve hard-to-find medical supplies.

People stand in line to get tested for COVID-19 at a free walk-up testing site on July 11, 2020, in Atlanta.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

March 24

An executive order goes into effect closing all bars and nightclubs, banning gatherings of 10 or more people unless social distancing is in place, and requiring at-risk populations to shelter in place for two weeks.

April 1

Schools are closed through the end of the school year. At a coronavirus press briefing, Kemp draws ridicule after saying that he only recently became aware that asymptomatic people could spread the virus.

April 3

A statewide shelter-in-place order goes into effect, issued as the state reports more than 4,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

April 8

Kemp signs executive orders extending Georgia's public health state of emergency through May 13 and activating 1,000 more National Guard troops. He also extends the statewide shelter-in-place order through the end of the month.

April 13

The state expands testing criteria to include symptomatic critical infrastructure workers and asymptomatic people who have had direct contact with positive COVID-19 patients. In a statement, Kemp says, "Our testing numbers in Georgia continue to lag."

The governor also signs an order suspending enforcement of Georgia's anti-mask statute "so people can follow the guidance of public health officials without fear of prosecution," Kemp says, adding, "I want to thank Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for raising awareness about this issue."

April 17

Kemp announces the completion of a 200-bed alternate care facility at the Georgia World Congress Center to provide treatment to non-critical COVID-19 patients.

April 20

In the wake of new reopening guidelines released by the White House, Kemp announces that he will let his shelter-in-place order expire on April 30 and allow some nonessential businesses to reopen, starting with gyms, bowling alleys, hair salons, barbershops, nail salons and other similar businesses on April 24 and restaurant dine-in service on April 27. The move draws criticism, including from President Donald Trump, who says, "I think it's too soon."

In this April 24, 2020, file photo, barber Tommy Thomas gives his long-time customer Fred Bentley a haircut after the Georgia governor allowed a select number of businesses to open during the COVID-19 restrictions in Atlanta.
Julio-Cesar Chavez/Reuters, FILE

April 30

On the day the statewide shelter-in-place order expires, Kemp extends the public health state of emergency through June 12 "to continue enhanced testing across Georgia, ramp up contact tracing, and maintain effective emergency response operations in every region." Vulnerable populations are also ordered to continue to shelter in place through June 12.

May 28

The governor renews the state of emergency for a third time, through July 12. On the same day, he loosens public gathering restrictions up to 25 people and announces more reopenings, including bars and nightclubs starting June 1 and amusement parks and water parks starting June 12.

June 11

Kemp rolls out more reopenings, including live performance venues starting July 1, and increases limitations on gatherings to up to 50 people with social distancing in place.

June 29

Kemp extends the public health emergency through Aug. 11 as the state "has seen an increase in new cases reported and current hospitalizations." An ABC News analysis finds that Georgia has recently seen record numbers of new cases.

July 10

The governor announces he is reactivating the Georgia World Congress Center, which had discharged its last patient in late May. That day, the state reports a record number of new coronavirus cases, with 4,484.

July 13

Three days after Bottoms announces that Atlanta is reverting to "Phase One" due to rising cases in the city, Kemp releases a statement that the action is "non-binding and legally unenforceable" and asks residents to follow his orders.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appears on "Good Morning America," July 7, 2020.
ABC News

July 15

Kemp voids at least 15 local mask mandates, including those in in Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah and Rome, instead encouraging voluntary mask wearing in the state.

July 16

Kemp sues the city of Atlanta over its requirement to wear masks in public. "Governor Kemp must be allowed, as the chief executive of this state, to manage the public health emergency without Mayor Bottoms issuing void and unenforceable orders which only serve to confuse the public," the lawsuit states.

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