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Opinion: Gov. Kemp, we're frustrated, too
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Governor Brian Kemp speaks Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, during the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce board meeting at the Ramsey Conference Center at Lanier Technical College. - photo by Scott Rogers

The anger and frustration emanating from Gov. Brian Kemp at his state Capitol press conference this week was palpable.

When questioned about a mid-month report from the president’s COVID-19 task force that showed Georgia as having the most new cases per 100,000 residents for that particular week, and twice the national average for cases per 100,000 residents, the governor was quick to make known his thoughts on the subject.

Unfortunately, his anger was directed toward all the wrong places.

He was mad about the report being leaked to the media. He was mad at the AJC for writing about it and at other media outlets for having the audacity to ask about it. He was mad that the media gave credibility to national numbers rather than those being generated by the state. He was mad that more positive news about the state’s efforts to control the virus was not being publicized.

In fact, the governor had little to say about the findings of the report itself, and a lot to say about the fact those findings had been made public by the media. Because, you know, blaming the media is the politically popular thing to do these days, and everything works better if the public only gets to hear the news you want it to hear.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

The governor went so far as to accuse the AJC of playing “pandemic politics” by writing about the federal report, though it’s a little hard to determine what that political bias might be when you are talking about the findings of a group established by a Republican president, writing about a state governed by a Republican governor.

Kemp was quick to point out that hospitalizations in the state are trending down, that things had improved since the compilation of the federal data, that the state has proven, credible experts leading its initiatives to fight the virus, and the media only wanted to report the bad numbers without getting out all of the information.

But the media did not create the White House report for Aug. 16. The president’s task force did that, and this is some of what it said about data from the week of Aug. 8-14:

  • Georgia has seen early stability in new cases and a small decrease in test positivity over the past week, but a decline in tests performed. Testing must expand. Georgia’s small gains are fragile and statewide progress will require continued, expanded, and stronger mitigation efforts, including in all open schools.
  • 4% of nursing homes are reporting 3 or more residents with COVID-19 infection per week over the last 3 weeks; infection control statewide surveys are needed to ensure protection of the residents.
  • Georgia is in the red zone for cases, indicating more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week, and the red zone for test positivity, indicating a rate above 10%.
  • Nationally, Georgia was ranked 1st for most new cases per 100,000 population and 9th for highest test positivity last week.

And these are some of the recommendations made in the report:

  • Recommend a statewide mask mandate for counties with 50 or more active cases to ensure consistent mask usage, as improvements are fragile. (The report identifies 148 counties in Georgia where it says residents should wear a mask outside the home; the state has 159 counties total.)
  • Continue the bars closure in all counties with rising test percent positivity, increase outdoor dining opportunities, and limit indoor dining to 25% of normal capacity.
  • Expand the protection of those in nursing homes, assisted living, and long-term care facilities (LTCFs) by ensuring access to rapid facility-wide testing in response to a resident or staff member with COVID-19 with isolation of all positive staff and residents. Ensure social distancing and universal facemask use.
  • Ensure messaging to all citizens to limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer people, even with family. Cases seem to be coming from within households. It is essential that all citizens are limiting gatherings and protecting the members of their households with comorbidities.
  • Expand testing capacity in public health labs by adding shifts and weekend shifts to reduce turnaround times. Institute 3:1 or 2:1 pooling of test specimens to increase testing access and reduce turnaround times.

The governor’s take on it all is that the numbers have changed since the report was done a week ago, that the data on which the state makes decision is more significant than the federal data, and that the media should only report what they are told, not what they discover on their own.

His frustration is obvious, and to that we can only say, “Join the club.” We are all frustrated by data that never seems to match, with federal numbers showing one thing, state numbers showing something else, and local numbers different still.

We are all frustrated by experts in the field who interpret every bit of data differently, who give conflicting reports and make recommendations at odds with each other.

We are frustrated that there isn’t enough coordination among elected and appointed leadership to provide us with confidence that those in charge know what they are doing and that there is a unified, consistent approach to lessening the damage being done by the pandemic.

We are frustrated by leaders who play their own version of “pandemic politics,” who do not always tell the whole story or release all the data, who prefer propaganda to news reporting.

We are frustrated by friends dying who maybe did not have to die, by family members in hospitals that we aren’t allowed to visit, by the very real human toll being taken every day by a deadly disease that some pretend doesn’t exist and others refuse to seriously address.

We definitely feel your frustration governor. And your anger.

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