That makes Georgia — along with South Carolina and Tennessee — one of the first states to begin the process of reopening. And it’s put a major spotlight on both Kemp and Georgia.
Cillizza: What prompted Gov. Kemp to be the first big state to begin reopening?
There was a combination of factors that led to his decision.
And Kemp was facing urgent calls from some of his conservative allies — and a scheduled “Reopen Georgia” rally Friday at the state Capitol — to start rolling back the limits.
But it’s important to remember Kemp was always torn over these restrictions. He was among the last state governors to impose a statewide shelter in place, instead letting cities and counties institute a patchwork of policies that had some areas under strict curfews and others next door without many.
He also announced plans to ramp up testing and start contact tracing, though Georgia remains far behind other states in per capita testing.
And Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the head of Georgia’s public health department, pointed to a “rolling total that smooths out the curve and makes it easier to analyze” on the state’s website. “We definitely have a plateauing and what appears to be, now, a decline,’ [she said]. “And by the end of the week and certainly by the end of the shelter-in-place, that will be the two-week decline that’s required to remove the shelter-in-place.”
Bluestein: Some of the most vocal criticism has come from denser urban areas where Democrats dominate.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, one of the state’s top Democratic officials, urged residents to ignore Kemp’s directive. And Stacey Abrams, his opponent in 2018, called his approach “dangerously incompetent.” Others have coined the term “quaran-tat” since tattoo parlors will reopen.
High-profile public health experts are sharply critical of his decision, warning that Georgia’s testing capabilities still aren’t up to snuff and that reopening too soon could trigger another wave of the disease.
But some conservatives quickly endorsed his approach. Both Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston joined Kemp for the announcement, and Republican officials in some suburban and rural areas trumpeted the approach.
“At the end of the day I believe we are all responsible for our own health risk decisions,” he said. “If you don’t like the governor’s decision you still have a choice to stay home until you feel safe. But there are people who have to work to provide for their families.”
Cillizza: Kemp is seen as a Trump-loving governor who takes his marching orders from the President. Fair?
Bluestein: The governor is a close Trump ally, but it’s not fair to say he takes his marching orders from the Republican. Look no further than the last time we did one of these Q&As, shortly after Kemp defied the president by choosing business executive Kelly Loeffler for an open US Senate seat.
Kemp has, however, praised the President’s response to the pandemic and appeared alongside him during his March visit to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And unlike some other Republican governors, he’s been careful not to criticize him as he calls for more federal resources.
Cillizza: Finish this sentence: “If this reopening gambit doesn’t work, it means _____________ for Gov. Kemp.” Now, explain.
Bluestein: “If this reopening gambit doesn’t work, it means trouble for Gov. Kemp.”
That’s the simplest way to put it. It’s not an understatement to say that lives are on the line with Kemp’s decision.
Public health experts fear the pandemic that has killed hundreds of Georgians and sickened nearly 20,000 could worsen if residents put down their guard. And they worry that the reopening of dine-in restaurants and close-contact businesses like nail salons and barber shops could encourage just that.
Democrats have not been shy about warning of the dire consequences of Kemp’s decision. State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, put it bluntly: “This is going to get more Georgians killed.”
Kemp’s allies say he’ll get blamed if there’s a spike in coronavirus cases regardless of whether he took these steps. And the governor has repeatedly stressed that he’s growing more worried about the financial toll of the pandemic.
“These are tough decisions, no doubt, and I’ve had to make many of them. And I can promise you I will have to make more,” Kemp said.
“But we also have got to think about the effects on our economy and these individuals from a mental health perspective, from a physical health perspective and literally for people being able to put food on their tables.”