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Editorial: The Hunker Games – Gov. Kemp rolls the dice with our health

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Editorial: The Hunker Games – Gov. Kemp rolls the dice with our health

Gov. Brian Kemp
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On Sunday, I published an editorial that said Gov. Brian Kemp is not a goober.

I may need to issue a correction on that. After seeing the governor’s press conference today, I am no longer convinced.

Gov. Kemp had the opportunity to do the politically unpopular thing and close non-essential businesses for a time to curb the spread of COVID-19. He acted as if that was going to happen, telling Atlanta’s mayor to delay issuing a stay-at-home order until his press conference today.

The press conference began with a long recitation of the governor’s mostly admirable actions to combat the spread of the virus. The governor has already saved lives, and for that, he should be applauded. He’s closed schools, directed state agencies to implement teleworking policies, declared a public health state of emergency to cut through some red tape,  extended the state’s tax filing deadline, ordered up more medical supplies and is actively looking for more spaces to put hospital beds.

It’s a good thing he’s looking for more hospital beds because we may need them. What the governor did not do was issue an order closing all non-essential businesses and ordering residents to stay home, as other states have done.

Instead, the governor asked us to do what many of us already are doing. Are you in a long-term care facility? Do you have chronic lung problems? Are you a cancer patient? Have you gotten a positive COVID-19 diagnosis? Do you have symptoms of COVID-19? Have you been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you’ve already probably isolated, quarantined or sheltered in place. If you haven’t, Gov. Kemp is now ordering you to do so. He also closed all bars and nightclubs and banned all gatherings of 10 or more people “unless you can maintain six-feet between all people at all times.”

And how will all of this be enforced?

“If your friends, neighbors, or local organizations are not complying, call them out, or report them to us,” Kemp said. “If an establishment isn’t following these directives, take your business elsewhere.”

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That was his big announcement, the one that he made us wait all day to hear. He signed an executive order telling us to do the things we already were doing and then asked us to rat on our fellow citizens who aren’t already following the rules.

When presented an opportunity to lead, he instead chose to roll the dice in the hopes this pandemic will peter out and he’ll look prescient. But if the most vulnerable people are cooped up and the rest of us are out and about, it’s likely we will be dealing with this pandemic for a long time to come.

Kemp’s order sounds like it was crafted by David Pennington, the Mayor of Dalton, Ga. He called restaurant closures “hysteria” and said he was disappointed that more people weren’t eating at restaurants.

The mayor told the Daily Citizen-News, “I don’t deny that vulnerable people need to self-quarantine — the elderly, people with health conditions. But the rest of us don’t.”

The governor clearly heard you, Mayor Pennington. Like you, he’s taking the bold step of asking most of us to basically do nothing.

This is personal to me. My wife has asthma. If she gets COVID-19, she’s in trouble. We have been locked inside our house for over a week, washing, scrubbing and social distancing while the rest of the free world continues spreading the virus around unchecked. Gov. Kemp’s failure to enforce a statewide shutdown makes the sacrifices of my family and the sacrifices of millions of Georgians feel pointless.

If we aren’t going to get serious about fighting this pandemic, why bother fighting it at all?

Sure, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms or CEO Michael Thurmond can issue stronger shelter-in-place orders. They probably will. But unless everyone is doing the same thing, it doesn’t really matter. Bottoms’ or Thurmond’s shelter-in-place orders will just be two more patches in a patchwork quilt of regulations that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, rendering them meaningless and unenforceable.

Many people in these jurisdictions will abide by these orders. Many won’t. And if many people won’t, the virus will continue jumping from body to body and the body count will rise.

At some point, a mandatory, statewide shelter in place order may be unavoidable. Maybe President Trump will spare Gov. Kemp the trouble of having to make tough choices by ordering a national quarantine. A five-week total shutdown could give this virus a chance to burn itself out and give us the opportunity to get on with the business of living our lives. I’m not an expert, but I think that would be a better strategy than letting everyone figure it out for themselves.

That’s the strategy we have now, and it clearly isn’t working. If 26 dead Georgians and more than 500 dead Americans aren’t enough to convince Kemp of that, I’m terrified to find out how many people have to die before he is convinced.

A two-week non-shutdown accomplishes nothing. It’s just prolonging the misery by gambling that the experts are wrong.

For the sake of my family, I hope they are wrong. But given how this pandemic has played out across the country, I wouldn’t bet on it.

The message from the governor could not be clearer. It’s the same one we’re getting from President Trump: You’re on your own. Welcome to the Hunker Games, where the odds may or may not be in your favor.

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