The Jolt: ‘I’m not necessarily saying it’s wrong,’ Brian Kemp says of leaked pandemic report

08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp (left) greets U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams (right) before the start of a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. Both Gov. Kemp and Vice Admiral Adams encouraged Georgians to where a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19.  (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Caption
08/10/2020 - College Park, Georgia - Gov. Brian Kemp (left) greets U.S. Surgeon General Vice Admiral Jerome M. Adams (right) before the start of a press conference at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic located in a Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport paid parking facility in College Park, Monday, August 10, 2020. Both Gov. Kemp and Vice Admiral Adams encouraged Georgians to where a mask to combat the spread of COVID-19. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Who is allowed to know what during a pandemic is becoming something of an issue in our state.

Last week, the AJC reported on the many public state records that suddenly have become unavailable or – when made available – are heavily redacted.

In this morning’s print edition, the lead article is based on a real but leaked federal report:

Georgia reported the highest rate of new cases of the coronavirus in the country in the seven days ending on Friday, President Trump's coronavirus task force said in its latest report, urging the state again to take stronger action to mitigate spread of COVID-19.

Though conditions in some areas of Georgia have improved modestly in recent weeks, the White House Coronavirus Task Force said Georgia remains in the red zone for severity of the outbreak as measured by rate of case growth and test positivity.

“Georgia's small gains are fragile and statewide progress will require continued, expanded, and stronger mitigation efforts, including in all open schools," according to the White House report, which was dated Sunday.

…Georgia reported 216 cases per 100,000 people in the week ended Friday, a rate that is about double the national average, the White House report said. The report was not released publicly, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained a copy from a source.

Gov. Brian Kemp did not make himself available for comment on Monday, but his spokesman pointed to recent declines in the rate of hospitalizations and coronavirus tests with positive results. He also accused the newspaper of “stoking fear and division with leaked reports and sensationalized news.”

Do consider that Kemp and his staff no doubt had access to the White House task force report – and decided that you didn’t need to know what it said.

This morning, Governor Kemp took to Twitter in his own defense, accusing his critics of political motivations:

“We are making measurable progress but the media and radical left continue to attack our state. They don't care about saving lives, protecting jobs, or safeguarding personal freedom. They just want to play pandemic politics."

We have yet to ascertain whether the White House task force is considered a member of the media or the radical left. In any case, an hour or so earlier, the governor was on WSB Radio. Said Kemp:

“I think it's very disappointing that the AJC will only write one side of the story, and that's the bad one. They continue to focus on, quite honestly, a leaked document, a leaked report. Georgians need to know what the truth is.

“Our current hospitalizations are down 18.8% -- that's [from] our peak on July 30….Our seven-day average of new cases reported is down 26% from our peak on July 24…

“Our seven-day average of tests coming back positive, our percent positive, if you will, is down from our peak of 14% on July 17 to 9.7% -- and we can go on and on.

“Our testing right now is being underutilized. We don't have so many people going to get a test….Our ‘R' rate continues to be below 1 -- even the AJC's own website says that. It's at 0.85, which means That the spread of the virus is decreasing. "

WSB Radio host Scott Slade asked Kemp if he were arguing that the White House report is inaccurate. Replied Kemp:

“I'm not necessarily saying it's wrong. The thing that's been really disappointing from whoever is leaking things like that -- the AJC is just focusing on one metric, depending on what the worst metric is for that week -- versus telling its readers and the people of our state what the whole picture looks like."

The governor said he saw no need to increase restrictions across the state:

“We're so much better now than we were two or three weeks ago, it's just unbelievable. That's not to say we don't have issues we're going to have to deal with. We know we've got issues with large student gatherings on college campuses, and some of our K-12 systems have had some problems…"

This may have been the most substantive tidbit from Kemp’s interview:

“The students that are going back to campus right now -- they've got to stop having these large, isolated off-campus or on-campus gatherings that are helping create the spread.

“We've got to also have a discussion about, if those things are happening, sending those kids back home to their communities is just going to further the spread."

***

On that same note, a north Georgia reader pointed us to an article in today’s Dahlonega Nugget, which begins thusly:

Though the latest report of COVID-19 cases in the Lumpkin County School System is now out, as of press time, superintendent Dr. Rob Brown declined The Nugget's request to report those numbers, taking issue with recent coverage of the school system.

“The last time we shared data with The Nugget directly, the data was used for an online article with a headline that created unnecessary fear and panic," Brown stated in an email on Monday. Brown's complaint is in reference to The Nugget's August 7 story, “Numerous Lumpkin teachers test positive for COVID-19 as first day approaches," where it was reported that 25 employees of the Lumpkin County School System had tested positive for COVID-19, with four others awaiting their results.

Like the governor’s staff, the school superintendent accused the newspaper of spreading “fear and panic.”

The Nugget reported that the super had been looking for a headline that said “LC Schools Closely Monitoring COVID Data” or “Less than 5% of the 540 LC Employees Impacted by COVID.”

***

Tuesday should have been dubbed Georgia Night at the Democratic National Convention. Five of the state’s leaders from past and present were featured in back-to-back speeches during the first hour of primetime programming.

State Rep. Sam Park and Stacey Abrams, whose two-minute monologue made clear Democrats consider her an important figure in the party, were among 17 “rising stars” — or, according to the Trump campaign, the “radical 17” — who jointly delivered the keynote address.

“Our choice is clear -- a steady, experienced public servant who can lead us out of this crisis just like he’s done before, or a man who only knows how to deny and distract,” Abrams said. “A leader who cares about our families, or a president who only cares about himself. We know Joe Biden. America, we need Joe Biden.”

Right after the keynote came former acting U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, who was fired by Trump ten days into his administration for refusing to defend his travel ban.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, each addressed the audience in a pre-recorded video that didn’t show them, but a slideshow of images from Biden’s career and the 2020 campaign splashed across the screen.

“We need a president who respects our laws and the privilege of public service. Who reflects our values and cares about our people,” said Carter, who at 95 is the oldest living former president in U.S. history. “We need a president who will restore the soul of America.”

***

Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams chose the John Lewis mural in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood as the setting for her video awarding the state’s 117 delegate votes to Joe Biden.

The “Roll Call Across America” videos featuring the unique people and qualities of 57 states and territories appears to be among the most popular changes under the virtual convention format.

***

The likely highlights for DNC Day 3: Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Michelle Obama’s husband Barack, the former president, will have the anchor positions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and 2016 presidential nominee, are also in the line-up.

***

The Trump Victory campaign’s counter-programing for today is a 4 p.m. session with Karen Handel, the former congresswoman attempting to retake the Sixth District seat from U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta.

***

While some Republicans around the nation are shying away from President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins continue to arm-wrestle over who is his true BFF.

A few days ago, Loeffler unveiled an ad that featured Trump’s warm remarks about her during his June stop in Atlanta.

Collins countered Wednesday with a TV spot that pronounced him Trump’s “preferred pick” and featured media clips recounting the president’s attempts to lobby Gov. Brian Kemp to pick him. See it here.

***

On a similar note, Politifact rated another recent Kelly Loeffler ad targeting Doug Collins votes on a transportation sales tax referendum as “mostly false.”

***

After her rally on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler was asked for the first time since Marjorie Taylor Greene won the 14th District runoff whether she agreed with the Republican’s support for the QAnon conspiracy theory and racist remarks. Loeffler, who congratulated Greene on the victory last week, dodged:

“I'm an outsider to politics. I was running a company a year ago. But what I can tell you is that she's articulated a clear choice between socialism and democracy. We need to keep fighting for the freedoms we have in this country. At no time in my lifetime has socialism had such traction."

***

Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are both participating in a “Flip the Senate” rally today as part of unofficial Democratic Convention programming.

The virtual event, hosted by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, will also feature other Democratic Senate candidates speaking to registered convention delegates.

Booker will lead a conversation about the importance of Democrats taking control of the chamber and what it would mean if all three branches of government were controlled by the party, a press release said. Ossoff’s campaign said he will discuss the historic nature of Democrats winning one or both seats.

***

Stand Up America, a progressive grassroots organization, is spending $1.5 million on a voter registration drive in Georgia and eight other battleground states. The money — which will also go to Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin — will include texts, calls, targeted social media ads and mailers to Black, Latino and young prospective voters.

***

The Marietta Daily Journal reports this morning that Cobb County’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge has passed on endorsing GOP incumbent Sheriff Neil Warren, instead putting its weight behind his Democratic opponent, Cobb Police Major Craig Owens.

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