Coronavirus cases have surged in Georgia and across the nation, raising concerns about states reopening businesses, schools and other institutions. Faced with the spike in cases, Florida and Texas ordered the closing of bars where typically the virus spreads among young people. The situation presents a dilemma as to how fast and far to move on opening the economy even as the Trump administration pushes for reopening the schools.
By midweek Cobb’s cases exceeded 6,000 with 247 deaths, while Georgia topped 100,000 cases with nearly 3,000 deaths and the United States rose above 3 million and globally the count was nearing 12 million. People apparently were going about their activities more or less as usual with or without face masks despite the repeated admonitions from health officials to wear the coverings.
Yet the frustrating fact is that face masks do not provide total protection. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who routinely wore a face mask and urged others to do so, tested positive for the virus as did some family members. “COVID-19 has literally hit home,” the mayor said. She decided to use an executive order mandating masks as opposed to Gov. Brian Kemp’s approach to encourage but not require the coverings. The mayor said, “the fact of the matter is that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on our cities, specifically black and brown communities with higher death rates.” Her move to require face masks followed action by the mayors of Savannah and East Point mandating face masks in grocery stores, restaurants and other businesses serving the public.
Despite the trend of virus cases spiking nationally, the Trump administration amped up the pressure for schools to reopen without delay. Vice President Mike Pence at a midweek briefing said the death rate from the virus “continues to be low” and there has been “a flattening of the curve” in some states. That laid the predicate for the theme of reopening the schools. “It is absolutely essential that we get our kids back in school,” Pence said. Likewise, Education Secretary Betsy Devos said the issue was not how but when schools reopen. CDC Director Robert Redfield said it was critical that schools be reopened. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar echoed that sentiment.
Before the briefing, President Trump tweeted a politically loaded warning of the consequences if states don’t act on reopening. “The Dems think it would be bad for them politically if U.S. schools open before the November Election but is important for the children & families,” Trump said. “May cut off funding if not open!”
Up to this latest push by the Trump administration for schools to reopen, Georgia’s 180 school districts were expected to make their own decisions on that question. Restart working groups were appointed by the governor and state school superintendent to plan for reopening schools in the fall focusing on six topics: food, distance learning, internet access and computers, mental health, supplemental learning and facilities and busing. The groups are to provide “expertise and perspective” together with input from public health officials. How this plan will mesh with the Trump administration’s push for reopening the schools remains to be seen.
In view of Georgia’s rise in virus cases, Gov. Kemp has signed executive orders extending the state of emergency and existing safety measures. The governor reiterated the need for people to heed “public health guidance by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly, and practicing social distancing.” He said, “We have made decisions throughout the pandemic to protect the lives — and livelihoods — of all Georgians by relying on data and the advice of public health officials.” He pointed out that the spike in cases came despite “a decreasing case fatality rate, expanded testing, and adequate hospital surge capacity.”
Yet even as the governor and federal officials keep sounding the mantra for observing public health guidance, the number of virus cases continue to rise in Georgia and many other states. This makes it necessary to emphasize once again that the pandemic can be slowed and the rising curve flattened by observing the simple rules as the governor reiterated: wearing a mask, washing hands regularly and practicing social distancing. Do it for the sake of the country and for yourself.