Georgia governor says he didn't know asymptomatic people could spread coronavirus

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), while announcing a statewide stay-at-home order, said Wednesday that he only recently became aware the coronavirus could be spread by asymptomatic people.

"The reason I'm taking this action, like I've continued to tell people, I'm following the data, I'm following the advice of Dr. [Kathleen] Toomey," Kemp said in response to a reporter's question at a press conference announcing the order.

"Finding out that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs, so what we've been telling people from directives from the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] for weeks now that if you start feeling bad, stay home ... those individuals could've been infecting people before they ever felt bad,” he added. “But we didn't know that until the last 24 hours. And as Dr. Toomey told me, this is a game changer for us."

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Public health officials have long warned the virus can be carried and passed on by people not displaying symptoms, and Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSecond senator tests positive for coronavirus antibodies Senate Democrats pump brakes on new stimulus checks Tim Kaine tests positive for COVID-19 antibodies MORE (R-Ky.), who became the first senator to test positive for the virus in March, reported that he had not experienced any symptoms before testing positive.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield said earlier this week that up to a quarter of all cases do not show symptoms, telling NPR “this helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country because we have asymptomatic transmitters and we have individuals who are transmitting 48 hours before they become symptomatic.”

Kemp announced the stay-at-home order Wednesday, saying he will sign it Thursday to be effective through April 13, and he announced all of the state’s K-12 public schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year. He said the state has reported 4,638 cases and 139 deaths statewide as of Wednesday afternoon.

"I know you want to return to business as usual, but we must first overcome the obstacles we have in our path,” Kemp said at his briefing.