Brian Kemp Would Do Anything To Keep Georgia Safe, But He Won't Do Masks
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has quite a thorny dilemma. You see, his state is being hit just as hard by the Delta virus as the rest of the South, and he'd honestly like to make it less worse. But on the other hand, he's a Republican, and he'd really make the unhinged base of his party mad if he acted like the pandemic were somehow dangerous enough to require public health measures like mask or vaccine mandates. He doesn't dare, since he's up for reelection next year, and he's already in hot water with his party's angriest people for not throwing the 2020 election to Donald Trump like a real American would.
Hmm, hot water ... would that do anything to slow the virus? He could tell Georgians to enjoy their hot tubs, maybe!
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a good long look at Kemp's less-than-effective handling of the pandemic, and it's a pretty revealing read, detailing the many ways he's failed to do all he could to slow the spread, mostly because if he tried any
aggressive measures, the far-right crazies would be on him like the townsfolk at the end of "The Lottery."
Not that he's necessarily all that inclined to even suggest such a thing; Kemp has mostly stuck to the typical Republican strategy of saying people should definitely get vaccinated and wear masks if they choose to, but insisting that it's downright un-American to require anyone to ever do anything for the sake of public health.
Big surprise: That's meant that even as case numbers, hospitalizations, and deaths have increased, "the state's vaccination rate barely budged as hospitalizations and infections in classrooms continued to soar during the pandemic's lethal fourth wave." At least Georgia isn't among the states that have banned local school mask mandates, although Kemp vowed in July he would not mandate masking, ever, no matter what.
To be sure, Kemp hasn't been completely inert in the face of the crisis. The Journal-Constitution notes that he gave state workers the Friday before Labor Day off, and even suggested they could use the time to get vaccinated, like maybe if it occurred to them. We bet that drove up vaccinations by dozens!
Plus, just look at the other heroic measures Kemp has taken:
On Aug. 19, as COVID hospitalizations topped 5,000 and doctors from Atlanta's major hospitals begged people to get vaccinated, Kemp signed an order allowing businesses to ignore any local COVID restrictions. Four days later, as another 500 patients filled hospitals, Kemp said he hoped more Georgians would "become comfortable getting vaccinated."
The story notes that critics have suggested things short of mandates that Kemp could do, but hasn't:
He could offer incentives to younger people to get vaccinated and vastly expand mobile clinics. At the least, he could barnstorm the state to shed light on the tragedies unfolding in hospitals. He also could use his bully pulpit to dispel misinformation and make clear what Georgians need to do to save lives.
But gosh, that might come across as kind of shrill, wouldn't it? Maybe better to just talk about freedom and individual responsibility, and to explore suing Joe Biden over his recent requirement that companies with 100 or more workers be vaccinated or get tested weekly.
You really have to feel for poor Brian Kemp, who seems terribly puzzled about why the virus just keeps spreading even though he's urged Georgians to take personal responsibility for making choices they feel comfortable making. At the end of August, Kemp held a news conference where he announced he'd deploy 2,500 members of the National Guard to help at hospitals, and he even called vaccines a "medical miracle."
But he also said mandates would only breed distrust and reiterated that it was up to each Georgian to decide whether to get the shots.
Asked by a reporter if he was doing enough to stem the spread of the highly infectious delta variant, the governor said he didn't see other possibilities.
"If you have any good ideas on how we can further slow the spread, I'd be open to it," Kemp immediately shot back.
Hmmm. Maybe he could forbid employers from following the soon-to-be-issued OSHA rules requiring vaccines?
At the very least, Kemp is committed to setting a good example on masks. When the CDC issued revised masking guidelines in late July, calling for indoor masking in public places in areas with high transmission rates, Kemp helpfully went on "Fox & Friends" to say that "people don't trust the government anymore when it comes to COVID guidance, and mandates don't work."
Since then, Kemp has also modeled excellent public health attitudes by saying people should follow "scientific guidance," but also by ignoring the CDC guidance on indoor masking. Kemp keeps showing up at public indoor events without a mask, although he has a very good reason for ignoring the CDC guidance:
According to spokesman Cody Hall, the governor quit wearing masks earlier this year after he was fully vaccinated and hasn't gone back to wearing them since the CDC guidance changed. (He does wear them in facilities that require or request it, though.)
Hall said the governor wants to promote vaccines by showing people you don't have to wear a mask once you're inoculated.
The Journal-Constitution also notes that Kemp's office has communicating about public health down to a fine art; it's
quick to color any criticism of his approach as an attempt to "play pandemic politics" and force another lockdown.
So that's some excellent science messaging, too!
At an August 7 GOP rally in Rome, Georgia, almost no one wore masks, despite the CDC recommendation to mask up outdoors in crowds. Marjory Taylor Greene whipped up the crowd into a frenzy of droplet-sharing cheers by warning that vaccine mandates were tyrannical. But hey, local government made an effort, and it really underlined Kemp's point all along that local governments are best able to get the virus under control:
Floyd County medical officials set up a vaccination tent at the event, though not a soul signed up to get the shots.
Well there you go! It's a mystery why the virus keeps spreading in Georgia, but Brian Kemp is quite sure he's done everything possible to control the pandemic, within the bounds of what he can do and still win re-nomination next year.
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