This story was updated Friday, March 13, 2020, at 10:53 p.m. with more information.
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday that he would declare a public health emergency for the state on Saturday morning, as one of the state's marquee events joined the ever-growing list of canceled events and schools told 1.2 million children to stay home next week.
Kemp said in a statement that the declaration would allow resources to be marshaled for treatment and mitigation of the virus.
The announcement came hours after Augusta National golf club said it would postpone the Masters tournament until a future date.
Kemp also announced that the state is building temporary housing units for 40 people to house quarantined patients who have nowhere else to go at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, northwest of Macon. The state had previously set up trailers at Hard Labor Creek State Park near Rutledge, where one person was housed as of Friday.
A church northwest of Atlanta is asking members to monitor their health after two worshipers attended Sunday services the past two weeks and then tested positive for COVID-19.
They're among 42 cases of COVID-19 in the state, mostly in metro Atlanta and in northwest Georgia, according to the state Department of Public Health. One person — a 67-year-old man —- has died in Georgia. In Cartersville, the Church at Liberty Square was sanitized and plans to resume services Sunday, Senior Pastor Jacob King wrote in a letter on the congregation's website, after two members tested positive.
Clay Bentley told ABC News on Wednesday that on March 1 he sang in a choir at the church. He said it wasn't until he returned to a hospital in Rome for a second time that he was tested. "If they had tested me for coronavirus when I first came to the hospital, I wouldn't have got in such bad shape before they were able to start helping me," he said from inside the hospital. "They let me get to the worst that I could possibly get before they started trying to help me."
Georgia public health officials said they have been notifying people who came in contact with the infected worshipers at the church 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Atlanta.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.
Georgia school districts and day care centers should consider closing for two weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a Thursday news conference, though he stressed he was not ordering them to do so.
Districts responded quickly. By Monday, more than 1.2 million of Georgia's 1.8 million public school students will be out of school statewide, according to the Georgia Department of Education. The more than 85 districts sending student home includes every large district in metro Atlanta. Many of those systems say they plan to close for two weeks or until further notice, although some are hoping to take fewer days off. Most schools say they hope to continue delivering lessons online.
The University System of Georgia announced late Thursday that its 26 public colleges and universities would close for two weeks beginning Monday to test online instruction plans and monitor the progress of the epidemic. Emory University said it was shifting instruction online for the rest of the semester as are the four historically black colleges of Atlanta University Center — Spelman College, Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University and the Morehouse School of Medicine.
Legislative leaders announced Thursday they would suspend the 2020 session of the Georgia General Assembly until further notice. Before Thursday, legislative leaders had planned to end the session April 2.
Eight House members and 20 senators gathered in an eerily empty capitol Friday for brief sessions to assign legislation to committees. They then put the session on pause.
"Hopefully we will be back sooner rather than later," said House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican. "But I think we all agree at this point in time that there are things more important than us being here. And that's taking care of families, the elderly, the young."
Even though the regular session is paused, Kemp's declaration of a public health emergency, under state law, automatically triggers a call for a special session of the Georgia General Assembly, to be held Monday, in order to ratify the action.
The law gives Kemp sweeping powers, including the ability to suspend laws and regulations, commandeer any needed private property, take over or force health care facilities to provide services, offer temporary housing and welfare payments, and take money directly from the state treasury without legislative authorization to pay for the government's actions.
Across the state, grocery stores looked like a hurricane was coming.
Lines were six carts deep late Thursday at a Publix in Smyrna, where some shelves were bare. In the toilet paper aisle, a single four-pack of toilet paper remained. Three shoppers in a row picked it up, only to discover the plastic ripped. All three shoppers put it back.
The virus is also likely to crimp Georgia's economy. Events including a large dental convention and the NCAA Final Four that had been scheduled for downtown Atlanta have been called off. Delta Air Lines, with 36,000 employees in Georgia, is among travel industry pillars facing big challenges.
"Certainly, we're seeing a pretty dramatic slowdown all across the economy," said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan. "But like I said, this is a resilient state, a resilient country, and we will bounce back strong."
In a show of defiance amid the mass cancellations, Tybee Island will host its St. Patrick's Day Parade on Saturday, the city council decided in a 3-2 vote, The Savannah Morning News reported. Though city councilors decided to hold the parade as planned, some residents warned against it.
"Who wants to die?" resident Diana Scarwid asked while looking over the crowd of about 50 at Thursday's city council meeting. "I don't see any hands going up."
Having the parade "could have devastating consequences to our population and wipe us out," she added.
Associated Press writer Ben Nadler contributed to this report.
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