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Opinion: Bringing more fight against COVID-19

FILE - In this June 30, 2020, file photo, people wait in line at a walk-up testing site for COVID-19 during the new coronavirus pandemic, in Miami Beach, Fla. As coronavirus cases surge in hard-hit Florida, so do the turnaround times for test results. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
FILE - In this June 30, 2020, file photo, people wait in line at a walk-up testing site for COVID-19 during the new coronavirus pandemic, in Miami Beach, Fla. As coronavirus cases surge in hard-hit Florida, so do the turnaround times for test results. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Credit: Lynne Sladky

Credit: Lynne Sladky

The Editorial Board's Opinion

Georgia’s struggle to effectively contain the COVID-19 pandemic has landed us on a federal “red zone” list of 21 states that don’t appear to be gaining sufficient ground against the virus.

A news story Thursday in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the report was distributed to state officials by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. It recommends that Georgia officials “mandate use of masks in all current and evolving hot spots – optimally a statewide mandate,” the AJC reported.

Despite advice from health experts to mandate mask-wearing statewide, Gov. Brian Kemp has balked, saying such a requirement would be unenforceable. His strategy to date has been to politely urge Georgians to wear face coverings when out in public.

The state has also filed suit against Atlanta, asserting that the city’s masking mandate inappropriately conflicts with state guidance.

The AJC’s Editorial Board has offered our opinion several times on this matter.

We made these points in an editorial July 12:

Common sense and the very basics of human hygiene tell us that … the importance of using face masks to slow the spread of coronavirus transmission should be an easy sell in Georgia, where "Wisdom" is the first word in the State Motto.

And we're pleased that a growing number of local governments are mandating the use of face coverings in public because too many people still are not doing so.

We're disappointed as well that Gov. Brian Kemp has resisted adding a mask mandate to his repertoire of executive orders issued so far to try to control COVID-19's ongoing spread. Other states have acted more forcefully to require mask usage.

A mandate from the governor would carry considerable weight in convincing all Georgians that it's time to get serious and do all we reasonably can to safeguard our health. It would carry much more persuasive heft than the state's current campaign that merely urges people to comply.

Given the state's rising numbers of coronavirus infections that have now occurred in each of Georgia's counties, Kemp's reticence sends a confusing message that could hinder both public health efforts and attempts to restart our economy.

We built on that advice in a July 17 editorial, written after the state filed suit against Atlanta:

All this while the red curve of new virus cases in Georgia and the U.S. continues to steeply rise. At a time when some states are acting far more assertively than Georgia to try to limit COVID-19's spread. And despite advice from doctors and other infection control specialists from corner medical offices on up to Washington, D.C. They're passionately urging use of face coverings, frequent hand-washing and social distancing to help defeat this virus.

Having been battered by the effects of COVID-19 on both consumers and workers, the business community, too, seems fully engaged in the anti-virus fight. Large retailers are increasingly doing what Kemp and other holdouts will not: requiring that customers wear face coverings.

Is it really a "bridge too far" to require that every Georgian take a minimal precaution when they are out in public breathing or coughing on others?

We don't think so.

Our opinion hasn’t changed since then. What’s changing are the daily-rising numbers of COVID-19 cases and related deaths here. They demand additional action by state leaders – and all Georgians, we believe.

Given that the AJC found last week that Georgia police departments had yet to issue a single citation for not wearing a mask, it’s clear that the governor’s moral authority that would be conveyed by mandating mask usage becomes even more important.

We are printing today a letter from Georgia healthcare workers to Gov. Kemp and the state Department of Public Health, pleading for them to step up the fight against the coronavirus. The names of about 2,000 signers to date can be seen on AJC.com/opinion.

The Editorial Board.