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State advises limiting gatherings over 10 for next eight weeks
FCN Brian Kemp 1 101418
Republican Brian Kemp attends the Cumming Country Fair & Festival on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

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Gov. Brian Kemp and other state leaders are advising limiting gatherings over 10 for the next eight weeks as the state and nation continue social distancing.

"Choosing to stay home and following this advice can significantly limit the spread of the virus and help us as we try to flatten the curve," a joint statement reads.

"If you are experiencing any symptoms, please stay home and contact your medical provider. If you continue to go to work, school, or other gatherings - even if you are not experiencing symptoms - you may be putting others at risk. Elderly citizens and those with chronic, underlying health conditions face a serious threat to their health, and we must do everything in our power to reduce risk and limit the spread of the virus."

Cases of the new coronavirus in Georgia continued to climb on Friday, as the death toll in the state rose to 13 from 10 a day earlier.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped to 420 on Friday, up from the 287 cases the state was reporting on Thursday.

The health department did not specify where the new deaths occurred. The department announced Friday morning that it will now begin updating cases twice daily at noon and 7 p.m., up from once daily at noon.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Although Gov. Brian Kemp has said he won't order restaurants and other businesses to close, local governments continue to take those steps. Athens-Clarke County, which earlier had asked residents to voluntarily stay home, changed that to an order to stay home except for essential trips on Friday. The order runs through April 7. The city of South Fulton outside Atlanta imposed a 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.

The city of Savannah closed bars, gyms, movie theaters and other public spaces and ordered restaurants to cut capacity by 50%.

Other cities have gone further than Savannah, with Atlanta and the suburbs of Brookhaven and Dunwoody banning in-restaurant dining, limiting eateries to takeout and delivery service. Tybee Island banned visitors to beaches and open consumption of alcohol.

In southwest Georgia, restrictions in Albany and surrounding Dougherty County took effect Friday and last at least a week. With 38 confirmed infections, it's one of Georgia's hardest hit communities outside metro Atlanta. Bars, theaters and bowling alleys will be closed across Dougherty County. Grocery stores and other retailers must limit occupancy to 50 or fewer people at a time. Churches will be shuttered except for funerals and people will be barred from gatherings of 10 or more. And anyone confirmed to be infected or awaiting a test result will face misdemeanor charges if caught breaking quarantine.

Georgia has opened at least 13 drive-thru locations for coronavirus testing and plans more. Kemp says priority for tests is being given to those at highest risk — the elderly, people who already have chronic illnesses, those in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and first responders such as paramedics.