The Georgia State Capitol as viewed from the James H. “Sloppy” Floyd Building. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Opinion: It’s too soon for Ga. to reopen for business

We are at a dangerous time in the state of Georgia. Thanks to the sacrifice of all Georgia’s citizens and businesses, we have successfully flattened the curve to the point that the medical system is not overwhelmed and ER’s are not turning people away. That’s entirely due to social distancing, and it’s working.

Unfortunately, the Governor is caving to a small but vocal fringe group that wants to deny that we’re facing the largest global pandemic in a century. We know what has worked to mitigate the spread of the disease; social distancing works. All scientific models suggest that we are right at the peak of the disease in Georgia. You don’t stop doing what works when a pandemic is peaking. We need to keep nonessential businesses closed until we have a measurable decline.

The challenging – and frustrating – thing about COVID-19 is that it has an extremely long period where people are sick and contagious but not showing symptoms. People in the ER today didn’t catch it yesterday. They caught it as much as two weeks ago. That’s why we need to follow the CDC guidelines and wait until cases have dropped for 14 days before starting to reopen.

On April 22, my Democratic colleagues and I sent a letter to the Governor asking him to wait until we had 14 days of a reduction in the number of new cases. At that time, available data suggested we had eight consecutive days of decreased cases with the knowledge that new case data would be added. With more case data added, we can see that there was some sort of resurgence in cases from the 18th to the 20th. That’s the sort of data that needs to be known, and not just speculated about, when deciding whether to reopen.

Like everyone, I hope that the 14th was the peak. I’m as ready as anyone to get back to work and start figuring out what the new normal will be. But the last thing we want to do is cause a second wave that could be even bigger than the first. The disruptions to daily life and the economy have been immense from shutting down once. Just imagine how bad it would be if we have to shut down again in two or three weeks for another month or more because we were impatient in reopening.

That’s why I’m urging patience. There is light at the end of the tunnel if we keep social distancing, but only if we listen to the science and data when reopening.

I am doubly frustrated that the Governor is specifically reopening businesses that involve direct physical contact between employees and customers. Everyone, including the Governor himself, recommends people maintain six feet of distance. You can’t give a haircut or do nails from six feet away. Opening businesses like barber shops and nail salons is just asking for those businesses to become hot spots for infection. One infected customer infects one employee who then infects dozens of customers in the days before he or she begins showing symptoms. It is simply a reckless and unnecessary risk that will lead to more cases and possibly another shutdown.

Finally, we still have a shortage of surgical masks and other protective equipment. Reopening nonessential medical procedures will just make this shortage worse. Our doctors, nurses, and first responders are already having to ration protective gear because of the shortage. Allowing nonessential medical procedures will require more protective gear and make the shortage worse. Especially given the premature response and the likelihood of a second wave, we need to save all the available gear for the people risking their health and lives to treat COVID-19 patients.

State Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, is chairwoman of the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus.

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