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Opinion: Gov. Brian Kemp's half-measures are not enough
03122020 Kemp coronavirus
Gov. Brian Kemp speaks Thursday, March 12, 2020, as other officials stand behind during a press conference to provide an update on the state's efforts regarding COVID-19, after reporting the first death in Georgia related to coronavirus, at the Georgia State Capitol. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

It is past time for Gov. Brian Kemp to issue a statewide “stay-at-home” mandate requiring Georgia residents to self-isolate unless they are involved in the operation of essential businesses.

To this point, the governor has tried a strategy of half-measures to combat the novel coronavirus, and that is not enough.

The message from the governor’s office has been mixed: the threat is serious enough to cancel schools until near the end of April but not serious enough to force the closure of nail salons and barber shops. People really shouldn’t congregate together, but if funeral homes want to hold visitations, there’s not a lot that can be done about it. Bars have to close, but gyms do not.

The Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager
  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown
  • David George
  • Brent Hoffman
  • J.C. Smith
  • Tom Vivelo
  • Mandy Harris dissents, favoring instead a more surgical approach focused on limiting the movements of only vulnerable populations.

In a televised “town hall” meeting Thursday night, Kemp again explained his actions by noting that not all of Georgia has been hit the same by the virus, and some counties have yet to see their first diagnosed case.

Of course, diagnosed cases and actual cases may not be the same thing, given the shortage of tests and the reluctance to use them on patients whose symptoms are not severe.

While it is true that parts of Georgia have remained officially virus-free to this point, it is a fantasy to believe that will be the case for long. When the virus does find its way to the state’s more remote locales, the result may be especially tragic, as those areas also tend to be health care deserts without hospital beds and medical personnel. When some of those residents do get sick, the odds of a bad outcome are high.

It is also true that some of the worst “hot spots” in the state are not exactly heavily populated areas. The virus finds ways to spread, and when ignored, its reach is dramatic.

Georgia is conservative and no fan of big government, so we understand the reluctance to have the state playing “Big Brother” and take charge of our daily lives. We also understand, however, that what we are doing now is not enough, as evidenced by the rapid daily climb in the number of cases and deaths and the number of health care professionals begging for more to be done.

Lacking a stronger position at the state level, Georgia is left with a hodgepodge of locally enacted bans, ordinances and mandates that vary from city to city, county to county. In some cases, municipalities inside the same county have different rules on what is allowed and what is not.

Trying to separate rural Georgia from more heavily populated areas ignores the reality that people travel. According to estimates by health monitoring agencies, one person with the novel coronavirus can infect from 1.5 to 4.5 other people. For the type of seasonal flu with which we are accustomed, the numbers are 0.9-2.1.

We need one set of rules, statewide, that demonstrate a serious, coordinated, planned effort at slowing the rate of exposure and ultimately lowering the number of cases. Along with that we need a well-defined list of essential services so there is not a lot of room for arguing over what is and what isn’t. We need common sense, not martial law.

What we don’t need is the chorus of mixed messages we’ve been receiving.

Unused to any sort of inconvenience and already impatient for things to improve, it is hard for us to accept that we may just be on the cusp of the worst of the pandemic. We can look at Italy, or even New York, and see how bad things can get in a hurry if our approach continues to be lackadaisical.

Without the public embracing protective measures, the evidence is pretty strong that the virus will totally overwhelm our existing health care systems, which we see happening now in other places. With adherence to such measures, the growth in numbers of infections will be less, and the disease may remain manageable.

“We do not want to be New York,” Dr. Shravan Kethireddy of the Northeast Georgia Physicians’ Group said in a Friday webinar hosted by the local chamber as a means of updating business owners on the status of the virus.

He and others associated with the local health system were asked if the state should be under a statewide shelter-in-place mandate from the governor. They answered with a chorus of “yes.”

There is no doubt that businesses are being severely challenged by the health crisis and that anything adding to the negative impact on the economy and the business community is difficult to accept. But if such a mandate lessens the duration and severity of the crisis, the end result will be worth the initially negative impact.

It’s time for the governor to act, but beyond that it’s time for people to get serious about the crisis. Despite all evidence to the contrary, far too many refuse to believe the severity of the situation.

Unfortunately, ignorance and the novel coronavirus have one thing in common. There is no effective vaccination for either.

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