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One critic admits Gov. Kemp’s reopening strategy was not ‘as bad’ as she thought

Few public officials have endured as much contempt for daring to suggest the economy must reopen as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

The Atlantic provided the most egregious example of the scorn, labeling Kemp’s plan to kickstart the Peach State “Georgia’s experiment in human sacrifice.”

“The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy,” the magazine added.

Kemp, a Republican, issued a shelter-in-place order on April 2. He was first among governors to risk trying to revive his state’s economy by countermanding the order on April 24, permitting gyms, barber shops, hair salons, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys to open back up. 

At the time, one of Kemp’s harshest critics was Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat whose constituents were hit hardest by the virus. Mayors in other notable Georgia cities, such as Augusta and Savannah, joined the chorus. Even President Donald Trump felt compelled to criticize Kemp, despite the governor being one of the president’s biggest allies. At the University of Washington, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose calculations have fed much of the thinking about lockdowns across the country, maintained Georgia shouldn’t even attempt reopening until June 22.

“It’s like we’re living in the twilight zone,” Bottoms told CNN on the first day of reopening. “They will go into hair salons and go and get manicures and pedicures as if it’s business as usual. And then what I expect is that in a couple of weeks we will see our numbers continue to rise in this state.”

“Nothing has changed,” she added, in urging Atlanta residents to stay put. “People are still getting infected. People are still dying.”

Three days later, in another interview with CNN, Bottoms said, “What we are essentially saying in Georgia is, ‘Go bowling and we’ll have a (hospital) bed waiting on you.’ That’s not what our approach should be to COVID-19.”

“No mayor wants to be at odds with the governor. … That should tell you how strongly I feel about this. …We cannot sit by while people die,” she added.

On the day Kemp directed citizens to stay home, Georgia had reported 298 deaths amid 10,748 confirmed cases, according to the state Health Department website. By the time he repealed that on April 24, coronavirus had claimed 1,100 souls out of 26,719 total cases. 

As of May 19, Georgia recorded 39,597 total cases and 1,687 deaths. The Health Department declares those amounts preliminary, so they could change.

Yet, if the numbers hold, Georgia reported fewer deaths in the 25 days after reopening (587) and fewer new cases (12,878) than were experienced during the 22-day lockdown period (802 and 15,971, respectively).

Mayor Bottoms appeared on MSNBC on May 19. Anchor Brian Williams asked if she felt she was wrong. The mayor replied, “Well, what I can say, Brian, is it’s not as bad as I thought that it would be.”

“I am pleased about that, but I still think it’s too soon to say,” she added. “It’s better than it was, but it’s still not great. We’ve still not seen that 14-day decline, as recommended by the CDC. So, we’re not quite there where I can say that we are out of the woods, because we are not. Because what we know, as we reopen this state, we’ll also see whether or not this impacts our number of people who are testing positive.”

Bottoms is right. Only time can tell us whether Kemp or the lockdown proponents were more correct about how to handle COVID-19.

But, again, if the trend continues, public officials who believe the economy should remain shuttered, with small business owners going under and millions of workers remaining unemployed and losing hope as to whether they’ll have jobs to go back to, should give more credit to those like Gov. Kemp, who recommended prudence along with recognizing the need to get back to work. They also should have more faith in Americans’ survival instincts. Mayor Bottoms didn’t admit she was wrong, but it is a step in the right direction to show enough humility to acknowledge the situation was not “as bad” as she thought it could have been.

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