On May 11, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp became the first governor in the U.S. to lift his state’s lockdown, igniting a bitter and regrettably partisan conflict between him and other state and local officials. On Aug. 18, a mere three months after Georgia reopened, the White House reported that the state has the highest rate of new coronavirus cases in the country.
It is no secret Kemp reopened the state far too early, and the consequences of his poor decisions have become grimly obvious. It is time to shut Georgia down again, from bars and restaurants to colleges and universities, lest more Georgians lose their lives.
Contrary to what President Donald Trump has repeatedly and incorrectly claimed, this virus has not suddenly disappeared. Georgians have paid the price of this false rhetoric with more than 200,000 confirmed cases, the fifth-highest per capita prevalence in the country and more than 5,000 dead Georgians. Schools, as they reopen, have become super-spreader sites largely because of our state officials: Kemp refused a statewide mask mandate and sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for imposing her own. Now, the virus is everywhere in Georgia, making the earlier outbreak in April and May pale in comparison to the crisis now on our hands.
We are neither scientists nor data analysts, but the virus’ resurgence in Georgia and nationwide is easy to follow: fear of negative economic consequences led Kemp and officials in states like Texas and Florida to prematurely reopen while largely ignoring public health protocols. It is no surprise, then, that those three states account for three of the largest outbreaks within the last few months.
States that similarly reopened too soon now face extreme precocity, compared to states that reopened their economies gradually. In Arizona, one of the first states to reopen, small businesses that weathered the initial surge of COVID-19 are now unable to handle a second wave of cases. Without the safety net of the now-expired coronavirus relief bill, many unemployed residents will face destitution and even eviction amid a worsening pandemic.
Like in Arizona, small businesses and employees in Atlanta are suffering the brunt of premature openings. The financial strain of operating businesses without steady revenue has caused small business owners to close their stores permanently. Ironically, Kemp’s attempt to save the economy has put it in even more dire straits. In fact, shutting down businesses now is essential to recapturing a thriving economy in the long run.
Georgia’s grand reopening invited an avoidable wave of new cases and deaths that overwhelmed hospitals in July. At this rate, Georgia will likely face a challenging fall and winter, especially as flu season emerges. We need to shut down now to prevent more deaths that are themselves preventable. Experts’ prediction of nearly 3,000 deaths in Georgia if it remained closed is a far cry from the current death toll of over 5,000. The urgency to close again has never been more grave.
A more proactive state-level response to COVID-19 potentially would have made a broader reopening of Emory’s campus more plausible, the kind administrators desired in Emory’s original reopening plan. However, any further reopening in the near future is certainly blocked by the state’s continued struggle with COVID-19. If the University is to restore a semblance of normalcy for its students, we must all do what we can to curb the spread of the violence and encourage Kemp to take more aggressive action to combat the disease.
Emory, a leading public health university headed by President Gregory L. Fenves, must pressure Kemp’s administration to enforce stricter policies, such as temporarily closing the state, especially institutions that are hotspots for COVID-19, and using state relief funds for low-income individuals and small businesses. Although the White House has marginalized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its pandemic response, it is crucial for all Georgians, including Emory students on and off campus, to follow CDC guidelines. If our elected officials refuse to act in our interests, we must act on our own by wearing face masks in public and social distancing.
Every individual has a role play in the collective effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but a response by Kemp and Georgia state officials that includes more frequent and accessible testing, a comprehensive contact tracer program and a lockdown of most businesses in the state, is all that stands between us and a catastrophe this fall and winter.
The above editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel’s Editorial Board. The Editorial Board is composed of Brammhi Balarajan, Zach Ball, Jake Busch, Meredith McKelvey and Ben Thomas.