The Jolt: COVID contact tracing? What contact tracing?

Scott Austensen, CFO at the Georgia Department of Education (left) speaks with Rep. Kathy Ashe after his budget presentation.

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Robert Ashe, an Atlanta attorney and former chairman of the MARTA board called Tuesday to say that his mom had just survived a bout with COVID-19.

Many of you will remember Kathy Ashe, now 74, who ended a 20-year career in the state House in 2012. Her 80-year-old husband, Lawrence Ashe, is still an active attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law.

“It’s a bullet dodged. We got lucky,” their son said. His parents were tested Sept. 6. She tested positive, he didn’t.

“They have a two-story house. She stayed on the top floor, and he stayed on the bottom floor. She was particularly concerned with what condition her kitchen was going to be in by the end of two weeks – which I tried to remedy by ordering a bunch of paper plates,” said Robert Ashe, an attorney at the Bondurant Mixson & Elmore law firm.

Kathy Ashe had wanted to avoid the gym, and so a trainer – masked and gloved – would visit the home. The trainer reported that an asymptomatic client had come down with COVID-19. The trainer subsequently tested positive as well – and told Kathy Ashe.

Robert Ashe had called for two reasons. First, his mother’s bout with COVID-19 was relatively mild – possibly because the trainer who likely exposed her was masked. It’s possible that the mask reduced the “viral load” that Kathy Ashe was exposed to – and that’s information worth passing on.

Then there was this: “Despite having tested positive two-plus weeks ago, no one from Fulton County or anyone with the state has contacted her,” Robert Ashe said.

In this case, responsible individuals reached out to one another. “That’s the only contact tracing that I can tell is going on. But given the amount of asymptomatic spread, that breaks down. If the trainer hadn’t called my mom, she wouldn’t have known she had it,” her son said.

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The street unrest that has accompanied many protests over police violence against Black Americans has sent many Georgians to their racial corners. From an AJC poll of likely Georgia voters:

For example, 65% of Black voters said they were more concerned about the actions by police against George Floyd and others than they were about protests that have turned violent. Among white respondents, 60% said violent protesting bothered them more.

Overall, 57% of voters polled said they support protests responding to the death of Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police. But the number declined to 42% of white people and 24% of Republicans.

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Shortly after the AJC published polling results in U.S. Senate race No. 2, Republican Senate candidate Doug Collins' campaign sent out a fundraising email detailing a “very close race.” That much is true.

This part wasn’t: It listed Democrat Raphael Warnock with the top spot in the poll at 24%, followed by Collins at 21% and his archrival Kelly Loeffler at 20%.

In reality, Loeffler was in the catbird seat with 24%, followed by Collins at 21% and Warnock at 20%. (In fact, the survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points, which makes the order of finish somewhat moot.)

Collins spokesman Dan McLagan acknowledged the error and pointed to other campaign memos sent to supporters that day with the accurate figures.

Loeffler spokesman Stephen Lawson responded thusly:

“'Acknowledged the error' = Got caught in a lie. Again. But I guess when you’re running a dumpster fire campaign and 40 days out you know you’re going to lose, forging poll numbers probably seems like a good idea.”

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In a New York Times piece on Republican efforts to back Green Party candidates in other states, in order to bleed votes away from Democrats, we find this intriguing paragraph:

Republican efforts to aid the Green Party are not new. In 2016, a billionaire backer of President Trump, Bernie Marcus, the co-founder of Home Depot, provided support to Jill Stein, the Green candidate, according to people with knowledge of the strategy, who said the effort was done with the knowledge of some officials at the Trump campaign and its chairman at the time, Paul Manafort. (Mr. Manafort was subsequently convicted of eight counts in an unrelated financial fraud trial.)

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The latest episode of Showtime’s “The Circus” includes an interview with Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, who spoke of his wife Alisha’s struggle with COVID-19. From the interview:

“While she was fighting the virus, the campaign and all of its concerns really fell away. I could not bring myself, when she was sick, to isolate from her … She made a full recovery, but a lot of people haven’t. This is the experience of hundreds of thousands of American families, to worry about the health of a loved one.”

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Watch it here. The entire episode on Showtime at 8 p.m. Sunday.

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The U.S. House took the first step in avoiding a federal government shutdown at the end of this month by passing a stop-gap spending bill.

The 359-57 vote was bipartisan, but 56 Republicans voted against the bill and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted “present” in protest. U.S. Reps. Jody Hice, R-Monroe, and Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, were the only Georgia lawmakers to vote no.

The Senate is expected to sign off by the end of the week.

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On Tuesday, we told you of how the U.S. Senate campaign of Kelly Loeffler had blurred out – at the company’s request -- the UPS logo in TV ads that drew on a Donald Trump event at which the president handed out compliments to Loeffler, GOP rival Doug Collins, and Sixth District congressional candidate Karen Handel.

We were quickly sent a clip of a Lucy McBath campaign ad – tying Handel to Trump – that also used a brief clip from the UPS. A spokesman for McBath, who upset Handel in 2018, confirmed that UPS had asked for its logo to be removed. It wasn’t in an early clip – but was in subsequent versions, spokesman Jake Orvis said.

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The National Republican Congressional Committee aired a new ad that echoes Republican Karen Handel’s “law and order” attacks against U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath.

The ad accuses McBath of supporting proposals that released criminals from jail and says “crime has gotten out of control” in the Sixth District as a result.

The visual is of a white woman jogging in slow motion. The ad references McBath’s vote in May on the House version of the HEROES Act, a COVID-19 relief bill that, among numerous provisions, directed federal prisons to release certain nonviolent, elderly or sick detainees in order to depopulate lock-ups during the pandemic. The measure did not pass in the U.S. Senate.

McBath’s campaign pointed out that Handel voted in favor of the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill signed into law by President Donald Trump that led to the release of thousands of prisoners.

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Mexico has asked U.S. immigration officials to provide a formal report about a whistleblower’s complaint that a doctor at a Georgia immigration facility is accused of performing hysterectomies without detainees' full consent and treating others badly, Reuters reported.

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In endorsement news: Kwanza Hall, a Democrat who is among seven candidates in the special election to complete the final two months of U.S. Rep. John Lewis’s term, announced endorsements from DeKalb District Attorney Sherry Boston and former state senator Jason Carter (grandson of President Jimmy Carter).

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Our AJC colleague Mark Niesse reports that the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Georgia have submitted an amicus brief to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- in support of a lower court ruling that says absentee ballots from 17 Georgia counties must be counted in the Nov. 3 election if they are postmarked by 7 p.m. and arrive within three days later.

We thought you might be interested in excerpts from the document, which can be read in its entirety here. Consider:

-- Here, Georgia’s Election Day deadline does not implicate the right to vote at all. It applies only to absentee voting, and “there is no constitutional right to an absentee ballot.”

-- On top of that, Georgia voters can vote in person, even after requesting and receiving an absentee ballot, so long as they take steps to ensure their absentee ballot is cancelled. (The secretary of state’s office has actually counseled against this.)

-- In-person voting is not too difficult or dangerous during COVID-19. The state has determined that in-person voting can be conducted safely and effectively. Indeed, early in-person voting begins in three weeks.

-- Even if the Election Day Deadline implicated the right to vote, any burden would be minimal. If “the inconvenience of making a trip to the [D]MV, gathering the required documents, and posing for a photograph surely does not qualify as a substantial burden,” …then neither does using one of the many available ways to vote before the Election Day deadline. As the State Defendants put it, “voters concerned about mail delays and COVID-19 can simply drop off their ballot either in-person at their county election office or in a secure drop box on or before 7:00 P.M. on Election Day. This all but eliminates any claim of burden.”

-- The district court’s order violates the Equal Protection Clause because it requires the “unequal evaluation of ballots” across Georgia counties… The order enjoins election officials in 17 of Georgia’s 159 counties from enforcing O.C.G.A. § 21-2-386(a)(1)(F), which otherwise requires ballots to be returned to county boards of registrars by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. … More specifically, the order requires ballots received in those 17 counties to be counted if received as late as three business days after Election Day. This means that O.C.G.A. § 21-2-386(a)(1)(F) continues to apply in Georgia’s other 142 counties, and mail-in ballots received after Election Day in those counties will not be counted as lawful votes….

-- Worse still, the 17 counties subject to the order were “cherry-picked” by Plaintiffs as counties with traditionally higher support for Democratic candidates. In particular, in the 2018 gubernatorial election, the Democrat won 15, or 88%, of the 17 counties subject to the August 31 Order, most by an overwhelming margin; meanwhile, the Republican won 128 (or 90%) of the other 142 counties.

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