Politicians, celebrities seize on Kemp’s ‘game-changing’ coronavirus remarks

A display of "remarkable ignorance." A "fatal mistake." An outright "lie."

Gov. Brian Kemp earned widespread ridicule for his comments Wednesday that he decided to take more drastic measures to curb the spread of coronavirus only after learning "game-changing" data that shows the virus is "now transmitting before people see signs."

"Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad," said Kemp, responding to a question from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We didn't know that until the last 24 hours."

Health officials have long known that people who were infected but not showing symptoms were capable of transmitting the virus to others. Federal health experts have warned of asymptomatic transmission for months.

Even Kemp has mentioned the threat himself, in a March 16 order urging nursing homes to restrict visitors because there "is a significant risk that individuals who seem healthy could visit a facility and unintentionally endanger residents."

His office said his remarks Wednesday referred to more recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this nature of asymptomatic infection, which a spokesman said triggered updates in state projections on testing, hospital capacity and virus transmission rates.

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Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, put it this way: The guidelines helped account for "a large number of people out there who are infected, who are asymptomatic, who never would have been recognized under our old models.”

(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Credit: Frazer Harrison

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Credit: Frazer Harrison

‘I knew this’

That's done little to stem the criticism that Kemp ignored science to hold off on more sweeping restrictions over concerns it would cripple the economies of mostly rural parts of the state that have few confirmed cases of the virus.

"If they had better election laws Stacey Abrams would be governor of Georgia. Brian Kemp's negligence could cost Americans thousands of lives," wrote U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a former presidential candidate, of Kemp's 2018 rival.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, used Kemp as an example of why the nation needs a national test, trace and quarantine program.

"Because Governors and Mayors aren't public health experts, and Kemp isn't alone in totally misunderstanding the science and making fatal mistakes as a consequence," he said.

"I am very dumb and I knew this," tweeted Chrissy Teigen, an entertainer, of a video of Kemp's remarks.

Georgia Democrats were among his harshest critics. The state Democratic Party released a lengthy timeline of public warnings that the disease can be transmitted by people showing little or no symptoms.

“Health officials knew. Americans knew,” party spokeswoman Maggie Chambers said Thursday. “Brian Kemp failed to act, and now Georgians are paying the price.”

>>Related: Georgia doctors plan for wrenching choices amid slim ventilator supply

>>More: Complete coronavirus coverage

And Democratic contenders let it be known that his remarks would play a major role on the November campaign trail.

“The facts are Kemp is late, he has been unclear and indecisive, and his excuse for late action is a lie," said Jon Ossoff, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. “The truth is Kemp ignored those warnings and failed to grapple with the speed and severity of this outbreak.”

Kemp’s spokeswoman, Candice Broce, dismissed the criticism as attempts by Democrats to “intentionally mischaracterize the governor’s speech to score political points in a pandemic.”

“They need to rise above the partisan attacks,” she said. “The governor offered an update to Georgians, who are eager for new information to protect their families, on how public health officials are revising protocols to stop the spread of COVID-19.”