ATLANTA -- For weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp stood firm. Repeatedly, he said the coronavirus pandemic in Georgia didn't warrant the extreme social distancing measures that most other states were imposing.
Kemp publicly supported a patchwork of stay-at-home orders by Georgia cities and counties, even as his top aide chastised those local governments for "overreach."
On Wednesday, amid dire projections of a steep increase in illness and death in the coming weeks, Kemp changed course.
He said he would issue an order Thursday requiring Georgians to remain in their homes for all but essential outings, such as to buy food or medicine, to work in critical jobs or to exercise in solitude outdoors. The new rules will be in force from Friday through at least April 13.
Many details remain sketchy. But Kemp said state troopers would enforce his order, as would others he plans to "deputize" to prevent public gatherings.
The Georgia State Patrol and other agencies will take "appropriate action to ensure full compliance -- no exceptions," Kemp said. He did not disclose potential penalties, but he said, "We will do what is necessary if people fail to comply."
Kemp also closed schools for the rest of the academic year, wiping out proms and field trips, senior nights and graduations and other familiar rituals.
"At this point, I think it's the right thing to do," Kemp said of the stay-at-home order, announced during a late afternoon news conference Wednesday in a park outside the state Capitol, where his aides enforced social distancing among the officials and journalists who attended.
"We are taking action to protect our hospitals, help our medical providers and prepare for patient surge," Kemp said. "This action will ensure uniformity among jurisdictions for Georgians sheltering in place and help families and businesses comply with its provisions."
Kemp spoke as public health officials prepared another grim update of the coronavirus' toll in Georgia: 4,748 confirmed cases and 154 deaths as of Wednesday evening. The figures represented 631 new cases and 29 additional fatalities since the previous day.