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Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order to require people with an increased risk of complications to isolate, quarantine or shelter in place as well as the closure of bars, nightclubs and a ban of gatherings of 10 or more, effective noon Tuesday until noon April 6. (Photo/Jason Born)

The U.S. was slow to respond to COVID-19. Compared to other developed countries, we’ve been slower to test, and we now have more confirmed cases than any other country in the world. It’s beginning to take its toll on many states, including Georgia. Over the past week, confirmed cases have exploded, and we need to take drastic action as soon as possible.

Gov. Brian Kemp and the state government should order a statewide shelter-in-place. It’s the government’s best chance to slow the COVID-19 virus and protect Georgians.

Georgia is already struggling to fight COVID-19. In Atlanta, all of the ICU beds are being used at each of the city’s four major hospitals. And it’s not just Atlanta that’s under pressure. According to a New York Times analysis of data from the Department of Civil Protection, National Institute of Statistics (Italy), Wuhan Municipal Health Commission and New York Times database of coronavirus cases, Albany, Georgia trails only Wuhan, China, the Lombardy region, Italy and New York City in confirmed cases per 1,000 people.

Yes, Georgia has taken some precautions. Kemp has banned gatherings of over 10 people, ordered shelter-in-place for “medically fragile” individuals, closed schools, shut down bars and nightclubs and declared a public health state of emergency. On the local level, several counties have ordered shelter-in-place.

I appreciate these steps, but I’m worried they won’t be enough. To stop the novel coronavirus, the state government must act decisively.

Kemp said on March 26 he doesn't want to take statewide action to balance the needs of all counties, including 50 counties that don't have any confirmed cases. I understand his reluctance, but most of those counties are rural, meaning they could be among the least equipped to handle an outbreak.

According to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, rural Georgia counties often struggle to build effective health care infrastructure because of transportation and difficulty in attracting doctors. And, compared to other Georgia counties, rural counties also have a higher share of residents over 65, a population vulnerable to COVID-19. Simply put, a surge of COVID-19 in rural Georgia could be devastating for those communities. We must prevent that from happening.

New York is understandably taking up most of the nation's attention on COVID-19. The state has more confirmed cases than anywhere else in the United States.

But Georgia is strained too. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the state has 2,446 cases as of press time. Since March 22, confirmed cases increased by almost 300%.

The numbers look bad right now, but they probably don’t capture the full scope of Georgia’s problem. People infected with the disease can go for up to two weeks without showing any symptoms, meaning there are almost certainly many more cases in Georgia. We might not be able to get the resources we need. Also, because of the country’s lack of testing, the true number of COVID-19 cases is likely much higher than the number of confirmed cases.

Other states are struggling too. Besides New York, other states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois and Louisiana have seen rapid increases in confirmed cases. In the United States on a whole, confirmed cases have skyrocketed from around 43,800 on March 22 to 124,686 as of press time, an increase of around 180%. Cuomo has said that states are already competing against each other for supplies such as ventilators. As more and more states face imminent crisis, the competition will only get fiercer.

We must act fast. Yes, that means economic hardship, but the damage is unavoidable. Delaying will only hurt Georgia more. We can’t let Georgia find itself in New York’s place. The state government needs to take bold and decisive action to stop this virus.

Clarification: A previous version of this article cited The New York Times when stating that Albany, Georgia has the fourth-most confirmed COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people worldwide. The data came from the Department of Civil Protection, National Institute of Statistics (Italy), Wuhan Municipal Health Commission and New York Times database of coronavirus cases, and The New York Times analyzed the data from those sources. The Red & Black regrets this error.

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