OPINION: Don’t cross Georgians. They can openly carry ... coronavirus

A quote by Gwinnett County School Board member Everton Blair is displayed on a demonstrator's sign during a rally and march created by the Gwinnett Educators for Equity and Justice outside of the Gwinnett County Public School Board building in Suwanee on July 20, 2020. Supporters of teachers and staff marched to demonstrate their concerns for starting off the school year in-person, instead of online, due to COVID-19. The Gwinnett County Public School Board announced that it will join most other districts in metro Atlanta and hold classes this fall online-only. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

I was slated to head to Chicago this week to help my sister, a preschool teacher, get back to work. She takes care of our mother, who has dementia, and my visit would have given her some breathing room as she set up her classroom and returned to class.

However, late last week she called and told me to stay home because coming from Georgia poses a problem. She said I would have to quarantine for 14 days because I would be coming from a “hot” state. And if I stayed in her house it would mean the same restrictions for her — thus, no school.

She was bummed out because she needs the help. But she needs her job even more.

Americans have been precluded from traveling to many places on the globe because of our inability to control the spread of COVID-19. We, in essence, have become a pariah country. And Georgia now is a pariah’s pariah.

At first, I thought, “Who are you to talk? Bodies were piling up in Chicago like cordwood.”

Then I checked the numbers via the COVID Tracking Project and found Georgia is having a bad spell. Right before the July 4 holiday, Georgia’s Governor Shotgun was flying around the state urging residents to wear masks.

Now, Gov. Brian Kemp wasn’t telling people to wear masks. He didn’t want to use the force of government to mandate that folks be more safe. That power is to be used only to prevent local governments from mandating that residents wear masks. That’s how he ended up in court against Atlanta officials, who seemingly hate liberty because they want people to cover their faces.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp boards a plane at the Peachtree DeKalb Airport in Atlanta on July 1, 2020. Kemp and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey took part in a “Wear a Mask” Flyaround Tour of Georgia, encouraging Georgians to follow the guidance of public health officials to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Rebecca Wright for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Anyways, back to the numbers.

On July 3, when the Guv was finishing his Mask Suggestion Tour and getting his cherry bombs ready, Georgia had seen a total of 90,493 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 2,856 deaths. At that same time, Illinois had 146,872 confirmed cases and 7,215 deaths.

Since then, Georgia’s case count has more than doubled to 204,895, with 4,026 deaths (as of Friday morning). And Illinois, which has 2 million more residents and is famous for figuring out ways to screw things up, has seen just a 29% increase in total cases to 189,705, with 7,791 deaths.

Worse, in a two-week period starting July 23, 666 Georgians died of COVID-19 compared to 231 coronavirus deaths in Illinois during that period. And, this is hard to believe, only 104 people died of COVID-19 in the past two weeks in New York.

Yes, New York! That state has seen more than 25,000 people die from COVID-19. So what is it now doing right? In fact, New York’s governor, who did plenty of stuff wrong early on, has implemented informational “checkpoints” telling travelers from 34 hot states that they need to quarantine for 14 days after entering. (Illinois and, of course, Georgia are among them.)

ExploreComplete Coverage: Coronavirus in Georgia

Last week was a bad one for Georgia, which reached several COVID milestones: 200,000 cases, 20,000 total hospitalizations and 4,000 deaths. It also passed the 50 mark for daily deaths. One could venture that some of those at death’s door were contracting it about the time of the governor’s mask tour.

Late last month, Georgia was one of 21 states with new outbreaks that were serious enough to be placed in “red zone“ status, according to a report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force. It recommended that Georgia officials “mandate use of masks in all current and evolving hotspots — optimally a statewide mandate.”

Harry Heiman, a professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health, said, “It’s not just common sense, it’s based on the best evidence public health experts have to date. There’s overwhelming evidence that the wearing of masks in indoor spaces and crowded outdoor spaces dramatically reduces the spread.”

“But there’s a difference,” he said, “between encouraging people to do things and mandating it.”

It’s like encouraging drivers to brake at stop signs.

Last week, students returned to schools and photos started circulating on the internet of unmasked social non-distancing. There were pictures of high school seniors packed together in Cherokee County, posing for their annual first-day-of-the-last-year-of-school photos. It’s uncertain how many kids put on masks before going back to class, because few, if any, wore them for the pictures.

Over at North Paulding High, a student got suspended and later unsuspended after sharing photos showing the school’s crowded halls during class change with lots of unmasked kids.

High school is a land of peer pressure. So, if masks were cool, or mandated, students would wear them.

But the kids are taking cues from leaders such as Paulding School Board Chairman Jeff Fuller, who doesn’t care for the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — such as 6-foot distancing, especially, he said, in light of budget cutbacks.

“CDC is not a governing authority in the state. All they can do is make recommendations,” Fuller said at a school board meeting, later adding: “Those guidelines, in my opinion, are complete crap.”

He wants Paulding schools to “lead the way in an absolute normal return to normal activities on August 3rd ... without buying into the hype that is out there.”

Granted, children rarely die from this illness. But they don’t live in a bubble. And once they come in contact with others, they become spreaders. In fact, one study says they can be “super spreaders,” although, like Fuller, I don’t want to get caught up in the hype.

But it sure is sensible these days not to be stupid.

(By the way, the day after I wrote this Friday evening, officials confirmed that six students and three staffers at North Paulding High have tested positive for COVID-19.)

Wear a mask, kids.

Note: Numbers for the increase in deaths during the two weeks starting July 23 have been corrected.

In Other News