The Georgia Department of Public Health, identified by Governor Brian Kemp as the guiding agency in Georgia’s COVID-19 response, has been granted unlimited powers by Gov. Kemp with full legal exemption from liability, while GDPH inter-departmental rules state an exemption from Open Records Act requirements for any GDPH actions or records related to “outbreaks.”
“The following records shall be deemed confidential and shall not be subject to public inspection...all information requested or collected as part of an outbreak or cluster investigation, subject to the exceptions described in subparagraph (b) of this Rule,” states DPH Rule 511-2.1.03, as referenced in a GDPH denial of a Georgia Open Records Request submitted by ConnectLocal to obtain testing statistics. “When an outbreak or cluster investigation is concluded, the Department's Final Report may be made public, provided that it contains no personally identifiable data. When an outbreak or cluster investigation is expected to last more than ninety days, the Department may prepare one or more Interim Reports. Such Interim Reports may be made public, provided that they contain no personally identifiable data,” states subparagraph (b.)”
Under Kemp’s Executive Order 04.20.20.01, the Georgia Department of Public Health is authorized to “employ whatever means may be at its disposal to overcome such emergencies, including, but not limited to, overriding the orders of county boards of health, health districts, and their officers, directors, and employees to enforce uniformity in the State’s response to the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.”
The Augusta University Health System (AU Health) has contracted with GDPH to provide COVID-19 screening and testing services for the state. Kemp’s Order classifies AU Health, as well as the directors, officers, employees, staff, contractors and facilities of AU Health and its subsidiaries and affiliated entities, as “agents of the state,” and as such, exempt from liability for “personal injury or property damage sustained by any person appointed or acting as a volunteer emergency management worker or member of any agency engaged in emergency management activity,” nor shall be held liable in any action seeking legal or equitable relief.
Kemp granted State Health Officer Kathleen Toomey discretion and authority to “select which specific COVID-19 screening and testing services operate on behalf of the state, health districts and county boards of health,” as well as the authority to enforce uniform testing requirements throughout the state. Failure to comply with any order issued by Toomey will be result in misdemeanor charges, enforceable by law enforcement officers.
Kemp’s order also placed the Adjutant General of the Georgia National Guard under Toomey’s direction and authorized the National Guard to enforce any uniform testing requirements instituted by Toomey.
“Enforcement of any county or municipal ordinance or order that is more or less restrictive than this Order is hereby suspended,” states Kemp’s Executive Order.
Additionally, Kemp categorized all cardiac technicians, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and paramedic clinical preceptors, as well as all officers, directors, employees, staff and contractors of air ambulance services, ambulance providers, emergency medical service systems, EMSC programs and local coordinating entities as auxiliary emergency management workers, and as such, exempt from liability “for the death or the injury to person or for damage to property” as a result of any active engaged in as “auxiliary emergency management workers.”
Authorities granted in the Order will expire at the conclusion of the Public Health State of Emergency. If the Public Health State of Emergency is extended or renewed, the authorizations will be extended until such state of emergency is terminated or ceases to be renewed by the Governor.