On April 20, Georgia reported 85 deaths from COVID-19, the state’s highest single-day total since the pandemic began. Yet on the very same day, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he would allow some nonessential businesses to reopen statewide. These include places where social distancing is impossible, such as gyms, salons and tattoo parlors. Opening these businesses while the death toll continues rising will only further spread the coronavirus and cause unnecessary deaths. We urge Emory students and Georgia residents to strictly follow social distancing measures and stay home despite Kemp’s misguided direction otherwise. 

Kemp stated that businesses will only be allowed to operate if they follow appropriate public health recommendations, such as keeping staff members six feet apart and requiring them to wear masks at all times. Despite managers’ best efforts to prevent their employees from getting sick and keep customers safe, COVID-19 will inevitably spread under their noses. About 25% of COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic; if businesses reopen, those individuals who otherwise feel healthy may unwittingly spread the virus to other patrons. Kemp’s order also includes businesses, such as massage parlors, where social distancing guidelines clearly cannot be followed, a decision that he reportedly made unilaterally. 

When reopening the state, Kemp consulted no members of his own COVID-19 task force or even any of Georgia’s mayors, many of whom have openly questioned his actions. His allies are no more supportive: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch conservative representing another state planning to ease its lockdown, expressed skepticism of Kemp’s haste. Even President Donald Trump, who has eagerly called on states to reopen their economies and whose administration recently created guidelines for states to start allowing businesses to reopen, “disagree[d] very strongly” with Kemp’s overzealous decision.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp./Courtesy of the Office of U.S. Senator David Perdue, Wikimedia Commons

Georgia’s testing capacity is insufficient to identify every COVID-19 patient and all of the people they have come into contact with, a benchmark which public health officials have identified as necessary for states to meet before lifting stay-at-home orders. The New York Times recently estimated that Georgia has only a quarter of the tests needed to meet this metric. Models have estimated that ending social distancing restrictions in Georgia now will result in over 100,000 hospitalizations and overwhelm the state’s hospitals within weeks. To make matters worse, Georgia has met none of the federal government’s guidelines for reopening. The state is simply not ready.

Kemp’s choice to flout federal guidance will affect us, not only as residents of Georgia, but also as Emory students. The University is expected to decide whether to offer in-person classes in the fall in the coming weeks. If Georgia sees a resurgence of cases, Emory may very well extend remote learning into the fall.  

While Kemp claims that reopening businesses now is necessary to save the state’s economy, a resulting second wave of the virus will cripple it. A hasty reopening will cause untold loss of life and likely necessitate an even hastier return to stay-at-home orders that should never have been lifted in the first place. As Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has repeatedly stated, “you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.” Kemp’s decision to reopen now both endangers Georgians’ health and promises to devastate the economy in the long run. 

Kemp’s ill-advised decision-making will undoubtedly cost lives. However, we as individuals can still minimize the risk to ourselves and our neighbors. All Georgians should continue to stay home and live by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines. Sacrificing today will spare lives tomorrow. All of us must do our part to preserve Georgia’s safety and health. 

The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. 

The Editorial Board is composed of Sean Anderson, Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey, Andrew Kliewer, Boris Niyonzima and Ben Thomas.