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Governor Brian Kemp Pointedly Corrects the Record on COVID-19 in Georgia

(Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

It is no secret that I have supported Governor Brian Kemp’s leadership during the pandemic. He has been smeared and challenged by the national media for moving to reopen. Then they were furious when he would not order masks statewide or let local governments do it. When the results of his plans didn’t lead to a New York-level tragedy, Georgia faded from the headlines. The state only popped up again with school reopening and dishonest coverage of school-related cases.

Even though national coverage waned as Georgia did not overwhelm its hospitals or see death rates approaching those in the northeast, local coverage remained critical. The state’s most influential paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, continued to publish positive tests as cases and push panic porn as the opportunity arose. Today, Governor Kemp decided to set the record straight.

Media Criticism of Governor Kemp for Reopening Georgia Is Dishonest and Hypocritical

Kemp made his case in an editorial in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It was critical of the paper’s coverage of the state’s response and provided some context for readers. The paper should get recognition for publishing it. That is a move that shows the paper’s integrity, and hopefully, they will take up the governor’s challenge to become part of the solution.

The governor pulled no punches in the first few paragraphs:

Every day, readers see COVID-19 numbers – including a tally of cases and hospitalizations – with no context provided. The editorialized front page is crawling with sensational “news” that undermines confidence in state agencies and school leaders. And when their anger boils over, the Editorial Board prints a list of baseless grievances coupled with a clickbait headline.

During this crisis, the AJC has turned into a tabloid rag – appealing to supermarket shoppers waiting in line, six feet from their neighbor.

This panic porn is the same kind of information we get fed on a national level. Every positive test is called a “case,” which is just misleading. There is minimal context provided about how many people are symptomatic or requiring hospitalization. Often, they are presented cumulatively, without any information about how many patients have entirely recovered.

In truth, that number is pretty encouraging. Most estimates put the survival rate form COVID-19 at approximately 99.8%. For healthy people under 45, the survival rate is even better. Total deaths are the media’s favorite statistic. And if you don’t know that on average about 7,500 people die per day in the United States, the numbers have shock value.

Dear Media, Governor Kemp Will Accept Your Apology Now

In a situation where people need accurate information to make proper risk-based assessments for themselves or their family, the media tends to cherry-pick the numbers that make the situation look as bad as possible. However, public policy is based on trends, not cumulative data. And ER visits for COVID-like illnesses are falling, and positive tests are declining on a national level.

In his editorial, Governor Kemp gave the same context about Georgia. Like a leader should, he also added information about the economic health of the state. Competent elected officials look at the entire picture and make balanced decisions to mitigate risk across the board. They don’t govern by a single metric or issue.

On all available metrics, Georgia is doing well. The seven-day moving average continues to decline. It is returning to levels not seen since late June. The rate of positive tests is also back below 10%, which is a crucial metric. And the transmission rate remains below one, which is far below the predicted R-naught.

Also, Georgia has avoided draconian budget cuts and maintains a AAA Bond Rating. The state’s unemployment rate is even declining. It fell to 7.6% after adding thousands of jobs in July. At the same time, policies protect the vulnerable. The governor has extended shelter in place for the medically fragile and encourages masks and social distancing without a mandate. There is still a ban on large gatherings.

Lies, Damn Lies and COVID-19 Statistics

Perhaps my favorite part of the editorial is the one that expresses why living in Georgia still feels like America:

“Keep Calm and Stay Home” is catchy but terrible advice. Instead of urging folks to hide away, which will destroy jobs and ultimately lead to increased suicide rates, lower educational outcomes, and violence, use the paper to urge Georgians to safely shop local.

Finally, the AJC should remember that our rights are worth protecting, even during a crisis. The paper chided my decision to protect private property owners from government overreach and urge – not mandate – Georgians to wear masks. This is still America, right?

Yes, Governor Kemp, it is. It is wonderful to live in a state where the governor wants to empower citizens to make appropriate decisions, not force them to comply. He ended by saying it is the people of Georgia who will do the right thing to stop the spread. More governors could take this approach, but it seems many like their new power. Some, Like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, are using new powers to ridiculous extremes.

Governor Kemp and his team should be congratulated for maintaining a rational policy that protects civil liberties while encouraging people to take precautions. Our communities and state will be better for it as the virus starts to wane, and we will be well prepared and ready if we need to manage it on a seasonal basis.