Georgia faces pressure to reconsider its reopening
Georgia is coming under pressure to reconsider its plans to begin allowing some businesses to open at the end of the week, even as the state has seen an uptick in coronavirus cases.
GOP senators, former Trump administration officials, health experts, Georgia mayors and Democrats are expressing outrage and concern, saying Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, is risking an explosion of new coronavirus cases that could lead to a second economic shutdown for the state.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R), who hails from bordering South Carolina and is up for reelection this year, said Tuesday that he’s worried Georgia is “moving too fast too soon.”
“We respect Georgia’s right to determine its own fate,” Graham tweeted. “But we are all in this together. What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.”
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also raised alarms about the plans, which would allow some businesses to open under strict social distancing and health guidelines as early as Friday.
Among the businesses that would be allowed to open then are gyms, nail salons and tattoo parlors.
“Gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, hair salons, tattoo parlors — it feels like they collected … a list of the businesses that were most risky and decided to open those first,” Gottlieb, who served in the Trump administration, said Tuesday on CNBC.
Kemp says the new rules would allow businesses to reopen but that they would have to take steps to ensure they are doing so safely. He’s also said that consumers will have to decide if they want to go to businesses that are open.
“The private sector is going to have to convince the public that it’s safe to come back to their businesses,” Kemp said at a press conference Monday.
Kemp said the businesses must resume operations under strict social distancing and health guidelines, outlining 20 principles the businesses must adhere to, such as screening workers for illness, having employees wear masks or gloves, and limiting the number of people who can gather in one place.
Kemp’s guidance would allow hospitals to resume elective surgeries immediately. Restaurants and theaters will be able to open as early as Monday, as long as they adhere to certain safety protocols.
The Georgia governor said the state is ramping up testing and contact tracing, with assistance from the national guard.
Kemp’s decision has put Georgia, a 2020 battleground, at the center of the cultural and political debate over how best to balance the dueling health and financial crises states face in dealing with the pandemic.
More than 19,000 people in Georgia have been diagnosed with the virus — an increase of about 13,000 since the beginning of the month. Nearly 800 have died in the state from the disease.
On Monday alone, there were 828 new cases in Georgia — the second consecutive day of increases. There were 85 coronavirus deaths in Georgia on Monday, the deadliest day yet.
President Trump’s former homeland security adviser Tom Bossert pointed to those statistics to warn that reopening the Georgia economy could lead to exponential growth in additional cases that might force another shutdown further down the road.
The White House guidelines issued last week recommended states wait until they see two weeks of a downward trajectory in cases before reopening.
“Georgia’s #Covid numbers don’t meet the 1st gating criterion,” Bossert tweeted. “Cases trending up @GovKemp, if disease transmission picks up after a rush to lift interventions, GA would pay the full cost of interventions w/out the benefit, esp. if you return to lock down.”
But Kemp said he could not sit idly by while Georgians are “going broke, worried about whether they can feed their children and make the mortgage payment,” even while he acknowledged that the number of cases in Georgia will likely increase.
“I believe this measured approach has got us to the time to trust our people and to keep going after and beating this virus, but doing it in a way that’s responsible,” Kemp said.
Mayors in Georgia described the decision as reckless.
Albany Mayor Bo Dorough (D), who said his county has suffered about one 1 of every 7 coronavirus deaths in the state, said that Kemp made the “wrong decision.”
“Unfortunately, many areas of the state which have only a handful of infections are, I believe, too anxious to return to normalcy because they have not yet borne the brunt of this pandemic,” Dorough said on CNN.
The Democratic mayors of Atlanta and Athens Clarke County made similar remarks, as did Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the governor’s race to Kemp in 2018 and is seen as a potential running mate for former Vice President Joe Biden.
“There’s nothing about this that makes sense,” Abrams said on MSNBC.
A spokesperson for Kemp did not return a request for comment.
The push to reopen businesses has gained traction predominantly in southern states. Kemp discussed his proposals with governors in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee before announcing them publicly.
There have been scattered protests over what some view as government overreach and an infringement on civil liberties inherent in the mandated business closures. There are fears that the shutdown is disproportionately harming the working poor, who may not be able to work remotely and don’t have the financial wherewithal to wait out the crisis.
National polls show the public is largely behind a slow approach to reopening the economy.
The latest HuffPost-YouGov survey found that 65 percent of respondents would stay home even if all restrictions in their area are lifted. Fifty-three percent said restrictions in their area are at the appropriate level, compared with 23 percent who said there should be additional restrictions and only 15 percent who said there are too many restrictions.
There is no polling specific to Kemp’s moves in Georgia, but Atlanta-based Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz told The Hill that his sense is that national polls are in line with where most Georgians are, and that the move is “pretty unpopular right now.”
“The public seems to be prioritizing health and safety over reopening,” Abramowitz said. “Most people think it’s too soon to be reopening and that we need to really ramp up testing and contact tracing first. I think that’s almost certainly true for Georgia as well. … This move seems very likely to backfire to me. Not only is it being heavily criticized by public health experts, but it seems likely to produce a new spike in infections and eventually deaths and force another lockdown.”
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