Georgia Governor Brian Kemp yesterday declared a State of Emergency in order to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and called the Georgia General Assembly back into a Special Emergency Session on Monday, March 16, 2020 at 8:00 am to ratify his action. This action occurred only a day after the General Assembly had suspended indefinitely its regular 2020 session due to the world wide coronavirus outbreak.
Under O.C.G.A. §38-3-51 the Governor can declare a state of emergency due to a health crisis but must also call the General Assembly into a special session “for the purpose of concurring with or terminating the public health emergency.” The state of emergency remains in effect for 30 days unless expressly extended by the Governor.
Among the powers enumerated by O.C.G.A. §38-3-51, the state of emergency gives the governor considerable power to deal with our present health care crisis including:
- assume direct operational control of all civil forces and helpers in the state;
- Suspend any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business, or the orders, rules, or regulations of any state agency, if strict compliance with any statute, order, rule, or regulation would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency or disaster;
- Utilize all available resources of the state government and of each political subdivision of the state as reasonably necessary to cope with the emergency or disaster;
- Compel a health care facility to provide services or the use of its facility if such services or use are reasonable and necessary for emergency response. The use of such health care facility may include transferring the management and supervision of the health care facility to the Department of Public Health for a limited or unlimited period of time not extending beyond the termination of the public health emergency;
- transfer from any available fund in the state treasury such sum as may be necessary to meet the emergency or disaster; and
- provide welfare benefits to the citizens of this state in the form of grants to meet disaster related necessary expenses or serious needs of individuals or families adversely affected by an emergency.
Furthermore, in regards to the Department of Public Health, O.C.G.A. §38-3-51 (i)(1) give the governor the power to direct the department to undertake the following:
- Planning and executing public health emergency assessments, mitigation, preparedness response, and recovery for the state;
- Coordinating public health emergency responses between state and local authorities;
- Collaborating with appropriate federal government authorities, elected officials of other states, private organizations, or private sector companies;
- Coordinating recovery operations and mitigation initiatives subsequent to public health emergencies;
- Organizing public information activities regarding state public health emergency response operations; and
- Providing for special identification for public health personnel involved in a public health emergency.
Under this emergency authority, the Georgia Department of Public Health has regulations in place authorizing it to do the following:
- Isolate persons infected with communicable diseases or conditions likely to endanger the health of others, until they are found to be free of the infectious agent or disease;
- Quarantine persons exposed to, or reasonably suspected of having been exposed to, a communicable disease, until they are found to be free of the infectious agent or disease;
- Require surveillance, including the active and direct active monitoring of carriers of disease and persons exposed to, or reasonably suspected of having been exposed to, a communicable disease, until it is determined that they no longer pose a threat of spreading disease;
- Require persons to be vaccinated or immunized, examined, and treated;
- Except as provided in subsection (2) below, an individual shall be exempt from vaccination or immunization if the person, or the parent or legal guardian in the case of a minor, furnishes an affidavit that complies with DPH Rule 511-2-2-.07.
- The Department may require vaccination or immunization of those who object on the grounds of religious beliefs if it is determined that an epidemic or the threat of an epidemic exists;
- Restrict travel into or within the state;
- Limit or cancel public gatherings; and
- Close, evacuate, or decontaminate any facility, or destroy or decontaminate any contaminated materials, that the Department reasonably suspects may pose a danger to public health.
Ga Comp. R. & Regs. 511-9-1-.03
Within Georgia law and state regulations, there are additional procedures in place to implement and enforce these broad emergency powers and prevent abuses. If you have any specific questions or concerns please let us know and we will follow up with further information.