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The Jolt: A swirl of masked contradictions in Georgia

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp returns to his office after giving a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol Friday, July 17, 2020, in Atlanta.  Kemp sued the city of Atlanta over its face-mask requirement just after President Donald Trump arrived in the city without wearing a mask, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp returns to his office after giving a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol Friday, July 17, 2020, in Atlanta. Kemp sued the city of Atlanta over its face-mask requirement just after President Donald Trump arrived in the city without wearing a mask, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday.(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: John Bazemore

Credit: John Bazemore

On one side of Broad Street in downtown Athens, masks are required in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The lawsuit filed by Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday specifically targets Atlanta and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. But a message is there for Athens as well -- to make sure that those on the other side of the city’s main thoroughfare are free to do as they please.

At the University of Georgia, a mask mandate went into effect on Wednesday. “Face covering use will be in addition to and is not a substitute for social distancing,” the UGA announcement read.

UGA is a state-owned institution. Required face covering on the city side of Broad was imposed by the government of Athens-Clarke County. And that makes all the difference – even if it might not make public health sense.

Georgia has become Ground Zero for the debate over how to handle the coronavirus and still survive the economic impact. The dissonance among all parties and the swirl of contradictions have been striking. From earlier this morning:

Gov. Brian Kemp defended his decision to take legal action to seek to block Atlanta’s mask mandate and other coronavirus restrictions, saying Friday that the “community defeats this virus – not the government.”

“While we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I’m confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing,” he said, attacking critics who “have decided to play politics by exploiting these difficult emotional moments for political gain.”

“This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp explained.

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Never mind that the state’s largest retailers -- among them Costco, Walmart, Target, Starbucks, and Kroger -- have announced that they will begin requiring customers to wear masks before entering their premises.

Attorney General Chris Carr will press the Kemp lawsuit and defend the governor’s authority under emergency powers that are now in their fourth month. He says this is about the rule of law.

Others are framing the lawsuit in more Darwinian terms.

“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can,” wrote Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Twitter.

As stated above, the University System of Georgia can require the wearing of face coverings. Governor Kemp contends that cities and counties cannot. But in his most recently expanded emergency declaration, the governor did give local school systems the option of saying yea or nay to mask-wearing. They are allowed a choice.

Some local systems in metro Atlanta had thought about splitting the difference -- requiring staff and faculty to don masks but making it optional for students. Which would mean putting the health of a school's population in the hands of any number of anti-authoritarian 15-year-olds.

Cobb County was one of those systems that had started down this path. It reconsidered on Thursday, announcing that classes would initially the virtual when school restarts on Aug. 17.

But the debate over who can and should be doing what doesn’t stop there. It goes to the top. On Thursday, as news of the Kemp lawsuit was breaking, the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsroom based in Washington, D.C., published a piece that specifically mentioned your state:

A document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized suggests more than a dozen states should revert to more stringent protective measures, limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, closing bars and gyms and asking residents to wear masks at all times.

The document, dated July 14 and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, says 18 states are in the “red zone” for COVID-19 cases, meaning they had more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population last week. Eleven states are in the “red zone” for test positivity, meaning more than 10 percent of diagnostic test results came back positive.

It includes county-level data and reflects the insistence of the Trump administration that states and counties should take the lead in responding to the coronavirus. The document has been shared within the federal government but does not appear to be posted publicly.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader of the task force, referenced an earlier version of what appears to be the same report — which she said was updated weekly and sent to governors — in a press conference July 8 in which Vice President Mike Pence urged local leaders to open schools in the fall. She said Arizona, California, Florida and Texas were among the states the task force was monitoring carefully and that “a series of other states” were also in the red zone and should consider limiting gatherings.

It’s clear some states are not following the task force’s advice. For instance, the document recommends that Georgia, in the red zone for both cases and test positivity, “mandate statewide wearing of cloth face coverings outside the home.” But Gov. Brian Kemp signed an order Wednesday banning localities from requiring masks.

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A political blog is by definition permitted to dabble in the crassly cynical. One thing that Governor Kemp and down-ballot Republicans need to worry about is a conflation between Georgia’s pandemic response and the response from the Trump administration. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this morning explains why:

-- 38% of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, down from 46% in May and 51%in March. Sixty percent disapprove, up from 53% in May and 45% in March.

-- A majority of Americans “strongly” disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. More than half of the public — 52% — now disapproves “strongly” of Trump’s handling of the outbreak, roughly double the percentage who say they strongly approve of his efforts and an increase from 36% in strong disapproval since March.

-- Americans say that controlling the spread of the virus is a higher priority than lifting restrictions in an effort to boost the economy. A 63% majority say it is more important to try to control the spread of the virus even if it hurts the economy, up from 57% in May.

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U.S. Sen. David Perdue toured a Doraville clinic on Thursday to tout the benefits of the Paycheck Protection Program - and assert that more federal help is on the way.

“So far, in Georgia, about $41 billion has come to Georgia through the PPP program and we’re only about halfway through. The next phase is going to include liability protection, we hope, maybe some more help for small communities and towns.”

Here’s a few other tidbits from his remarks:

On mask mandates: “A legal mandate is possibly unnecessary in Georgia right now. I agree with the governor. Unfortunately, sometimes this issue with Covid-19 has become politicized. That’s just not right. Democrats, Republicans - everybody should be shoulder-to-shoulder fighting this virus.”

On his run toward President Donald Trump: “I’m hopeful what we’ve been able to do in this race is contrast what the Democrats are really trying to do - and that is to change us to a socialist state … If we tell the people of Georgia, they’ll help me stop socialism.”

On school reopening: “I’m not going to second-guess a local school system to make a decision either way. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to safely open our schools. I think we can if we follow the protocols. Some school systems have more resources to do that with than others. I’m not going to be the one that judges them either way.”

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Already posted: The bitter Republican back-and-forth between U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins entered a new phase Friday as the incumbent launched a TV attack ad blasting her top GOP rival’s record as a criminal defense lawyer.

The 30-second spot seeks to frame Collins as an attorney who advertised to clients charged with sex crimes and other serious offenses and asserted that he “helped violent criminals and even gang members get out of jail – some struck again.”

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The WNBA won’t force U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler to sell her stake in the Atlanta Dream team, despite calls to do so after her criticism of players’ support of the Black Lives Matter movement, according to our AJC colleague Bria Felicien:

Loeffler wrote an open letter last week to WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert opposing players’ plans to honor and participate in the Black Lives Matter movement during the season.

Following the letter, many high-profile current and former WNBA players questioned Loeffler’s place in the league, where a majority of players are Black, and they called for her ouster. Dream players released a statement rejecting the letter.

In a segment on CNN, Englebert repeated the league’s stance that Loeffler is “no longer involved in the day-to-day business of the team” and hasn’t been since October 2019.

“We review all of our owners’ public statements,” Englebert said. We are aware there are interested parties who want to purchase the team. I know that’s being worked on. I can’t really comment on everything that’s being said in a political environment.”

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A spokesman for Loeffler said that she is not actively looking to sell the team.

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At least one company that has donated to U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign said it will no longer do so after she criticized the Black Lives Matter movement.

Boston Scientific, a medical device company, has distanced itself from Loeffler’s campaign after its political committee made a $2,500 donation, according to Popular Information, a newsletter founded by a Democratic activist. It’s reporters contacted at least nine companies that donated to the senator and, during recent protests, also released statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Most, like Google and Fedex, did not respond. Here is what Boston Scientific said:

We are surprised and disappointed by Sen. Loeffler’s recent comments, which are inconsistent with the values we believed she held when we made a donation to her campaign in the first quarter of this year. We denounce the senator’s comments on the Black Lives Matter movement, we have not made any recent donations to her campaign and will not provide financial support in the future.

Black lives matter, and Boston Scientific affirms the importance of our black employees, customers and patients around the world.

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Loeffler, in a Tweet, shared her reaction to the Popular Information investigation. In it, she focuses on the Black Lives Matter organization, although the protests are decentralized and not directed by a particular entity.

“Yes, I oppose a political organization that embraces Marxist principles and promotes violence & anti-Semitism,” she wrote. “So do millions of Americans who don’t live on Twitter. They’re not going to cancel us. They’re not going to intimidate us. And we’re going to win.”

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Former state House member Bruce Broadrick of Dalton, a pharmacist who served in the legislature from 2013 to 2017, has died.

“Representative Broadrick was a quiet, thoughtful, and hardworking member. He cared little about the limelight, preferring instead to be effective on behalf of his community,” House Speaker David Ralston said.

Private graveside services will be held on Saturday at West Hill Cemetery. More details can be found here.

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