Two years after barely defeating his Black Democratic opponent, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is opening his state for business amid a deadly pandemic. Atlanta residents, frankly, are not amused.
“I can’t understand where this (eagerness) is coming from considering we’re unable to properly distance ourselves from our clients,” said Linda Sharp, owner of Lark & Sparrow nail salon in Atlanta. “The idea that this weekend (April 24) is a good idea to reopen is incredibly irresponsible, in my opinion.”
Sharp complained that items like safety gloves, masks and face shields aren’t currently available to her employees, and that her distributors won’t have these items available until May, even though she placed orders for these items many weeks ago. The nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a run on many items associated with disease transmission, and protective gear affiliated with the salon industry were some of the first things to vanish. This doesn’t include the more important N-95 masks recommended to reduce COVID-19 transmission between employees and patrons, Sharp said.
“We have immunocompromised people on our staff, and I would not feel comfortable putting them in that situation. I really feel like this is a response to overwhelming unemployment, and that (the governor) is just doing this to reduce unemployment,” Sharp told The Lighthouse, and added that mass-gathering in a business environment would do more damage than good to businesses anyway.
“If everybody goes back to gathering together without proper protection, things are going to get worse before it gets better, and we’re not going to be able to open until even later,” Sharp said.
Gov. Kemp is pressing his state to open against the advice of national polls that would prefer the nation take a more cautious approach to opening for business. He appears to be pushing an agenda in support of Republican President Donald Trump, whose 2020 campaign is imperiled as the only thing he can run on falls to pieces: the U.S. economy.
Republican governors in South Carolina and Tennessee also hopped aboard the infecti-train and began assembling plans to relax shelter-in-place measures and reopen their states’ economies. Local mayors in these states, particularly Georgia, are furious at the proposal.
“I have four kids in my house … and as a parent I am concerned because when I look at the data that we receive from our public health department each day our numbers are going up,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told CNN. “We get a count at noon and at 7 pm. When I look at the 24-hour period for the 7pm count we got today (April 20) our death rate is up by almost 14 percent, our positives are up almost 7 percent.”
As of April 28, Georgia’s health department has reported 25,274 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1,052 virus-related deaths.
The mayor added that the state of Georgia, like Mississippi and other states, “are not (even) testing asymptomatic and people with mild symptoms,” due to a federal shortfall of COVID-19 tests, so numbers could be much, much higher than 25,000. At the moment, health officials in Georgia and Mississippi, for example, do not mandate COVID-19 testing for individuals sheltering in place with those who have tested positive. If a family of three or four contains one household member confirmed with the virus, the infection has likely already spread to the rest of the family during statewide lockdowns. Many household members will be asymptomatic but nevertheless hotly contagious.
Lance Bottoms admitted that the governor had not consulted with her, nor with many other mayors in some of the more populated areas, particularly Augusta, Georgia.
“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way. And again, I can’t stress enough, I work very well with our governor, and I look forward to having a better understanding of what his reasoning is,” Bottoms said, “but as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
Kemp’s premature push to jumpstart a faltering economy is presently doing nothing for his approval rating among Black and brown people and among low-income workers who already had doubts about their worth under this governor.
“Instead of fixing an unemployment system that is not processing people fast enough, his response is to send those people back to the front lines without the protective equipment that they need, without any assurances that the owners … will work or will actually do what they’re supposed to,” said Stacey Abrams, who lost to Kemp only after Kemp worked to purge thousands of Abrams’ likely voters from rolls in the weeks leading up to the election.
Whether an uptick in COVID-related deaths could negatively impact Kemp and GOP ambitions in November is in question. After weeks of demanding governors jumpstart their economies, even President Trump, is suddenly advising Kemp against jumping the gun and opening the government too early.