GOP Gov. Brian Kemp warns of new outbreak in heavily Latino area after he reopens Georgia businesses

An outbreak surrounding a Tyson food plant where 400 workers are infected is growing, the Republican leader says

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published May 6, 2020 5:19PM (EDT)

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Gov. Brian Kemp warned of a growing outbreak in the northeastern region of Georgia days after the Republican began taking steps to reopen businesses in the southern state.

Hall County has seen cases explode in recent days. The county has reported 1,882 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 and 27 deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The Latino community in the area has been the hardest hit, WGCL-TV reported.

"We've done a lot of testing in the community particularly in the Latino community," Caroll Burrell, the head of the Northeast Georgia Health System, told the outlet.

The state is sending a mobile medical unit to Gainesville, the biggest city in the county, and 100 doctors and health workers.

"They're being stressed pretty hard up there at the moment," Kemp said on Tuesday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Dave Palmer, a spokesman for the health district, said that officials have been sending out messages in Spanish as well as English in an attempt to reach Spanish speakers in the area.

Kemp said the state would set up a mobile hospital site and deploy contract medical staff to the region.

"It's an investment for sure," he said. "We know that this isn't going away anytime soon, so we'll keep this facility stood up even if it's not being used for the foreseeable future. So whatever happens in the fall — or until we get a vaccine — it will help us continue to be ready."

Many of the infections came from a Tyson poultry plant, where more than 400 workers have tested positive, according to the Journal-Constitution.

The infections have skyrocketed as the state aggressively moves to reopen.

"We've seen an increase in our community in regards to quarantine or sick in the last couple of weeks, especially this last week," Vanessa Sarazua, the head of the Hispanic Alliance in Hall County, told WSB-TV.

Kemp has faced heavy criticism, including from President Donald Trump, for moving ahead with plans to reopen bowling alleys, hair and nail salons, movie theaters, restaurants and tattoo parlors. 

Kemp said the state would seek to contain the spread of the virus by expanding testing. Georgia has nearly doubled its capacity, according to the Associated Press, but mobile testing sites had to temporarily shut down due to problems with reporting.

Dr. Philip Coule, the chief medical officer of Augusta University Health, told the outlet that mobile testing would remain closed for several days as the state deals with a two-day backlog.

"We're committed to maximizing testing for Georgians, and we're committed to making sure Georgians are getting their results in a timely manner," Coule said.

Coule said information flow has also been a problem, and some people have experienced delays in getting results. One issue: The state has involved universities which do not typically perform medical testing.

Toy Jackson, an Atlanta flight attendant, told WSB-TV that she has not gotten her test results back in more than a week.

"And they guaranteed 72-hour results," Jackson said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms criticized people who gathered at malls and parks over the weekend, warning that "the only thing that's changed about COVID-19 is your chance of catching" it.

Albany Mayor Bo Dorough, whose city has been the state's hardest-hit region, criticized the governor for reopening the state even though "Georgia had not met any of the benchmarks that were set forth by the White House."

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson told CNN that the reopening was "reckless, premature and dangerous."

"People can see it for themselves," Johnson said. "We want them to keep the faith, but we want them to follow the science. This is still a dangerous time. This is not the time for people to take their feet off the gas."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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