NOI

ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday that he will issue a statewide shelter-in-place order to prevent spread of the coronavirus and shut down public schools for the rest of the year.

Kemp has previously resisted calls for a statewide order for all Georgians to shelter at home, saying those decisions are best left to local governments. The result has been a patchwork of ordinances that can vary widely even between neighboring communities.

The order will be published Thursday and take effect Friday through April 13, Kemp said at a news conference.

“We are taking action to protect our hospitals, to help our medical providers and prepare for the patient surge that we know is coming,” he said. ”This action will ensure uniformity across jurisdictions for Georgians sheltering in place and help families and businesses be able to comply with its provisions.”

Meanwhile, a south Georgia hospital that has been inundated with coronavirus cases celebrated a rare positive milestone.

For the first time, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany on Tuesday released a patient who tested positive for the virus and had been on a ventilator in an intensive care unit. Hospital staff lined the hallway as the patient headed home after several weeks in the ICU, said Dr. Steven Kitchen, chief medical officer at the hospital.

“They were cheering. They were crying," Kitchen said at a news conference Wednesday. "This is an event that we are hopeful is going to be repeated not only at Phoebe Putney, but across every hospital that we see.”

The hospital has had more than 50 patients with the coronavirus and is awaiting test results on another 80, according to hospital officials. Thirty-one people with the virus have died at Phoebe Putney.

Surrounding Dougherty County has 480 of the state's roughly 4,600 coronavirus cases, second only to Fulton County in total cases, according to the state Department of Public Health. Fulton County officials have issued a shelter-in-place order for county residents.

Georgia's death toll from the virus reached 139 on Wednesday.

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