Power Poll: Georgia leaders say COVID still a grave risk

Only 1 in 5 of the state’s community leaders polled this month believe Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is on the right track with his hands-off approach to mandates on mask-wearing and vaccinations.

About 80% of those same leaders say it’s time for tougher talk, if not mandates, from the state, given the latest upswing in COVID-19 cases and rise of the delta variant, according to the latest Georgia Power Poll.

The poll, taken by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from Sept. 13-16, posed three questions — all related to management of the pandemic — to civic, political and business leaders in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah. About 24%, or 144, responded.

The survey does not have the precision of a scientific poll and is meant only to provide insight into the thinking of influential leaders across the state.

It was taken only days after Kemp and other Republican governors threatened to go to court to stop what Kemp calls a “blatantly unlawful overreach” by President Joe Biden, establishing new federal vaccine requirements.

Combined ShapeCaption
Gov. Brian Kemp announced an executive order last month that would prevent local governments from enacting vaccine requirements and mask rules. Only 1 in 5 of the state’s community leaders polled this month believe Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is on the right track with his hands-off approach to mandates on mask-wearing and vaccinations. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp announced an executive order last month that would prevent local governments from enacting vaccine requirements and mask rules. Only 1 in 5 of the state’s community leaders polled this month believe Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is on the right track with his hands-off approach to mandates on mask-wearing and vaccinations. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Gov. Brian Kemp announced an executive order last month that would prevent local governments from enacting vaccine requirements and mask rules. Only 1 in 5 of the state’s community leaders polled this month believe Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is on the right track with his hands-off approach to mandates on mask-wearing and vaccinations. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The new rules from the White House mandate that private-sector businesses with more than 100 workers require that their staffers be vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19, a move that could affect as many as 80 million Americans. An additional 17 million people working in health care facilities could have to be vaccinated if their facility receives federal medical funding.

Currently, about 46% of Georgians are fully vaccinated for the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Power Poll asked community leaders what should be done to boost the state’s vaccination rate. The biggest share of respondents – 45% – said they believe the state should impose mandates on the use of face coverings and require vaccinations. Roughly 35% said local and state officials should “speak more strongly, frequently, and persistently in urging people to get inoculated.” Twenty percent said Kemp is striking the right balance at this point.

Keith Mason, principal at KWM Capital Management and a longtime Capitol watcher, said in an email to Power Poll that “government’s power of the purse and permit can be very influential when used for the greater good.”

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Several dozen people gathered near the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center this week for a rally aimed at allowing the school and other public universities statewide to mandate wearing masks in indoor spaces and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Eric Stirgus / eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

Several dozen people gathered near the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center this week for a rally aimed at allowing the school and other public universities statewide to mandate wearing masks in indoor spaces and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Eric Stirgus / eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Several dozen people gathered near the University of Georgia's Tate Student Center this week for a rally aimed at allowing the school and other public universities statewide to mandate wearing masks in indoor spaces and other measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. (Eric Stirgus / eric.stirgus@ajc.com)

But Randy Lewis, managing director and co-owner of Fitzpatrick and Lewis Public Relations, does not believe mandates are the answer.

“It should be clear to everyone by now that COVID is not a passing virus. It is here to stay, and we need to adapt,” Lewis wrote in email. “Unfortunately, the government is resorting to mandates and accusatory language, which only hardens the opposition or reluctance to getting vaccinated. When was the last time that government coercion and threats worked out well?”

Most community leaders are taking the pandemic seriously, the poll found. About 74% said the recent rise in delta variant cases indicates that Georgians face a “real and significant” threat. Less than 10% see Georgians at minimal risk and believe employers know best how to protect their employees and customers, as well as themselves, while about 19% expressed optimism that the spike in cases may have peaked.

On the hot topic of how schools should respond, just over half of the community leaders said schools should be more flexible now in offering virtual learning options. About 38% said they believe schools are proceeding as safely as they can to get back on track with in-school learning. About 10% said virtual learning is nearly unworkable now due to logistical and fiscal barriers.

ExplorePrevious AJC Power Poll survey results

COMMENTS

Jeff Iannone, president and CEO of AIM Associates, Savannah: “The focus should be on treatments, not on the vaccination efforts. Anyone interested in a vaccination could have had one by now so clearly the percentage of people getting vaccinated will not change significantly. Natural immunity from antibodies obtained naturally must be as beneficial as the vaccine, but we have no way of knowing how many people have had the virus and recovered. It seems logical at this point that establishing an immediate course of treatment and disseminating that information to the general public would be a more beneficial use of resources.”

Cynthia Briscoe Brown, member of the Atlanta Board of Education: “All three answers to the schools question are true. Atlanta Public Schools and other school systems are working hard to meet demand for additional virtual learning spots, but it can be difficult to fully staff both virtual and in-person learning with highly qualified teachers. In the meantime, we do everything we can to keep teaching and learning happening safely and effectively.”

THE POLL AND RESPONSES

Given that nearly 6 in 10 Georgians remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, what can be done to boost the vaccination rate?

35.5% — State and local public officials should speak more strongly, frequently and persistently in urging people to get inoculated.

44.9% — The state should implement mandates around use of face coverings and vaccination requirements.

19.6% — Gov. Kemp is striking the right course at this point and efforts don’t need to be ratcheted up.

How much risk to Georgians is posed by the rise of the delta variant of COVID-19?

7.6% — There’s relatively minimal risk to us because Georgians, our businesses and employers know best how to protect workplaces, customers, and ourselves.

73.6% — The risk is real and significant, given the rise in hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths in recent weeks.

18.8% — I’m hopeful right now, given that numbers show signs of peaking from recent highs in other states.

Given the rise in COVID-18 cases here among kids, should Georgia schools be more flexible in offering virtual learning options?

51.4% — Yes, that seems a prudent approach.

10.6% — No, the logistical and fiscal barriers make this a nearly unworkable idea now that school’s begun.

38.0 % — The current precautions in place seem adequate to help make in-person learning about as safe as it can reasonably be.