The Jolt: A red vs. blue approach to the coronavirus pandemic

TYBEE ISLAND, GA - APRIL 4, 2020: People walk along Tybee Island's beach near the Tybee Pier at low tide after Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order allowing people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least 6 feet. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
TYBEE ISLAND, GA - APRIL 4, 2020: People walk along Tybee Island's beach near the Tybee Pier at low tide after Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order allowing people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least 6 feet. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

America's political divide has become deeply reflected in our approach to the coronavirus pandemic. Nine states in the Midwest and South have rejected shelter-in-place directives. All have Republican governors.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp was late to the game with a shelter-in-place directive issued last week. He fumbled an attempt to explain the delay, drawing much attention, and now it seems his orders actually loosen tougher restrictions that had been put in place by counties and cities. From the New York Times:

The different approaches have created a rift between states, angering other governors and residents living under stricter orders just across state lines. A Tennessee congressman wrote the governor of Arkansas asking for a stay-at-home order so that the virus did not spread next door.

Over at Trouble In God's Country, a website devoted to rural Georgia, amateur demographer Charlie Hayslett compares the performance of the old Confederacy to that of the Pacific states:

The West Coast governors acted well ahead of their Old South counterparts to begin shutting down their states. Indeed, probably the first major American politician to take such action was San Francisco Mayor London Breed; she imposed a shelter-in-place order on March 13 and was joined by other Northern California officials three days later. California Governor Gavin Newsom followed suit on March 19. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who was confronted with the nation's first major outbreak in Seattle, banned major gatherings in heavily-populated counties on March 11, and then imposed a full shelter-in-place order on March 23. Governor Kate Brown of Oregon came on board the next day.

Meanwhile, the Old South governors lagged well behind their West Coast counterparts and to a great extent deferred to local officials (only, once they did act, to upend many of the local actions). Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves initially said he had no plans to issue a statewide order but did take to Facebook Live to conduct a prayer session on March 22. Today, his state has among the nation's highest COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and mortality rates.

Ditto Alabama. There, as the West Coast governors were shutting down their states, Governor Kaye Ivey announced on March 24 she had no plans to issue a statewide order. "We're not California, we're not New York, we aren't even Louisiana," she said.

Today, Hayslett notes, the infection and mortality rates in Alabama are worse than those in California.

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Former Columbus mayor Teresa Tomlinson, a Democrat seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. David Perdue, struck similar notes in an MSNBC interview over the weekend. Watch here, but this was the gist:

"They simply don't know what government can do because they don't believe in the concept of centralized federal government. And then you have that same thing at the state level, where [Gov. Brian], [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis, Gov. [Kaye] Ivey and [Gov. Tate] Reeves in Mississippi just don't think the state should be involved in this pursuit of the general welfare and public health of the people. It's resulted in this anti-government libertarianism…."

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On Sunday, Gov. Brian Kemp named a new 16-member "outreach" committee to his coronavirus task force. Its duties weren't specified, but judging from the membership – the first 10 members named were people of color, including state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus – the group is intended to add some diversity to the mix. The committee is to be co-chaired by Bernice King, CEO of the King Center, and Leo Smith, a GOP activist with off-and-on ties to the Donald Trump campaign.

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Already posted: Governor Brian Kemp on Friday enlisted the state's sheriffs to help aid enforcement of his shelter-in-place directive.

Sheriffs aren't the only law enforcement officials who can enforce shelter-in-place rules, Kemp's order states. But the authority to shut down a business for non-compliance is, according to the governor, uniquely theirs.

This is important. Sheriffs are elected officials and in Georgia, mostly Republican. Which means control of the state’s economic engine remains squarely in GOP hands during the pandemic -- and is beyond the purview of law enforcement powers controlled by mayors. Who are often Democrats.

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Over the weekend, Tim Fleming, chief of staff to Brian Kemp, again defended his boss on Facebook, this time against local officials on the Georgia coast who objected to the fact that the governor's directives on public gatherings overrode their tougher rules that banned beach and park gatherings. It is all our fault, of course. Wrote Fleming:

People have to be able to get out of the house to get fresh air and exercise. As long as they do not congregate and practice social distancing. As we have seen this past week the media will do anything to create chaos.

Unfortunately, the amount of newsprint being devoted to the smooth, unerring humming of the Kemp machine – Chaos? What chaos? -- is shrinking rapidly. Over the weekend, the Marietta Daily Journal announced it would reduce its seven-day-a-week print schedule to Tuesday through Saturday publication:

Many of our long-term customers have shuttered their businesses or reduced operations. The pandemic has created a rapid erosion of their revenue and subsequently the advertising dollars spent with this publication. Further, there is no clear, visible end to when economics may return to pre-crisis levels.

The Rome News-Tribune will do the same. And the Gainesville Times, along with the Forsyth News, have gone further:

Having suffered a rapid erosion in advertising dollars ourselves, we are having to make sustainable changes to our publishing cycle and the way we do business.

Starting this week, our print newspaper will be mailed to our print subscribers' homes and delivered in their mail on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The content you are accustomed to receiving on Sundays will be in the weekend edition and will be delivered to your home via U.S. Mail on Saturdays. Both editions will have all the local news our journalists continue to report daily.

All these newspapers said they give greater emphasis to online news coverage.

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Secretary of State Brad Raffensperg this morning will hold a press conference to outline voting procedures in Georgia's upcoming May 19 primaries. One sure topic:"Steps taken to ensure voter safety during the unprecedented public-health state of emergency."

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U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., has avoided answering certain questions about her stock trading, such as sharing the names of her financial advisers or details of her agreement with them.

But she isn't the only one evading details. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., through a spokesman, initially declined to say whether he still was supportive of Loeffler in November's special election. Saturday morning, that same spokesman clarified that McConnell still has Loeffler's back, although the statement of support that the aide pointed to was made in December.

McConnell has not said whether he is bothered by stock trades conducted by Loeffler or other senators during the coronavirus pandemic. McConnell also has not said whether he has privately cautioned senators about making those transactions, or if he thinks the Senate Ethics Committee should look into them.

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Allen Buckley, an independent candidate in the contest to unseat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, doesn't care much for the $2 trillion relief package recently passed by Congress. From a note Buckley sent our way:

"Coronavirus is a very serious matter that deserves a very significant financial outlay. Like a potential federal debt crisis, we were warned about the possibility of such a pandemic for years. The CARES Act is a poorly crafted, financially irresponsible, piece of legislation.

"A colleague of mine told me his mid-sized law firm anticipates receiving $3.5 million in benefits. I know the lawyers in his firm do, and have done, very well. Professional practices generally shouldn't be eligible.

"Many people who lose employment or work will make more than they made while working, and the 39-month term of benefit payments will cause many to try to extend benefits rather than work, once the pandemic subsidies."

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U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, has a piece on the Fox News website outlining the nation's over-reliance on foreign sources for prescription drugs and their ingredients. A taste:

It's estimated that 90 percent of antibiotics, vitamins and pain relievers – drugs that Americans take every single day – come from China. As a pharmacist for more than 30 years and currently the only pharmacist serving in Congress, I know firsthand that we cannot allow this foreign dependence to continue because a disruption in the supply chain or a shortage of drugs could be devastating for every day Americans – and we are facing that reality today.

…While U.S. drug companies still lead the world in the development of cutting-edge pharmaceutical products, we've fallen behind on the production of basic drugs and ingredients. India is the number one producer of generic drugs in the world – supplying 18 percent of the world's generic medicines. But even India relies on China, with 70 percent of the [active pharmaceutical ingredients] used to manufacture medicine in India coming from China.

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Over in Gainesville, Steve Syfan is executive vice president of Syfan Logistics. You'll hear more about this later, but Syfan is trying to create a national protocol to protect long-distance truck drivers from the pandemic. The threat starts in the shipping office, he wrote in a note forwarded to us:

It is here where the interaction becomes potentially dangerous in the spread of a communicable disease like COVID-19. Often, the office is crowded with other drivers from multiple regions and states who are verifying their loads and receiving their load or unload instructions. Then, there are multiple tasks that usually involve several more points of contact such as filling out forms and sealing trailers to ensure safety of food and other shipments. Similar interactions occur on the other end of the shipment process with the receiving of the goods at a warehouse or distribution center.

His solution is simple:

…I'm advising that every driver simply stay in his or her truck – whether picking up a load or delivering it. The whole process of following verification and safety rules on each end of the shipment can easily be done without the trucker leaving the vehicle.

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