Reopening Georgia is a high-stakes public health gamble – and will likely appeal to Trump

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The reopening decision is not only a huge risk for Kemp, but the most aggressive leap of an American political leader towards the reopening of the enigma which balances the vicious job losses and the closings intended to remove the virus as quickly as possible.

It is a gamble with the health and, ultimately, the lives of many Georgian citizens and potentially frontline medical workers who will treat newly infected patients who Kemp claims will catch the disease.

He also appears to be flouting the logic of epidemiology and the warnings of government infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was absent from the White House briefing on Monday that “there is still a long way to go” to fight the pandemic.

To date, there is no proven vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus, which can cause serious and fatal respiratory collapse in some patients, especially those who are elderly or have an immune system. This is why aggressive social distancing is the only way to check the spread of the pathogen.

Kemp’s mooring in the Trump train and the President’s repeated agitation for the national economy to open quickly raises questions about whether Georgia’s decision is politically motivated.

This raises the prospect that Trump’s “beautiful puzzle” of state-by-state economic reopening could take place for partisan rather than public health reasons.

Some states like New York, Massachusetts and Michigan, which have Democratic governors, are currently approaching or have just passed peaks of infection. But there is no guarantee that more rural republican states will not become hot spots in the future. And Kemp’s move will also begin to shatter the remarkable national respect for social isolation that has allayed fears of a shortage of dangerously overcrowded ventilators and hospitals.

The opening comes in a difficult political context

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Kemp has placed his bet amid a cacophony of opinion calls on Fox News and other networks for a reopening of the economy that is essential to Trump’s hopes of winning a second term.

Meanwhile, Trump has encouraged conservative activists who have staged a series of protests across the country against the demands to stay at home which they say undermine the fundamental freedoms of the United States. State governors are beginning to fear that the protests will serve as petri dishes for the virus to spread further.

Kemp’s decision also appears to go against evidence from foreign states and territories such as Singapore and Hong Kong, and the city of Harbin in China, which saw coronavirus infections erupt quickly after restrictions were lifted or when residents have returned from abroad.

Yet, if Georgia manages to avert a disaster, the state could become a model for other regions that choose to live with a certain level of infections – and, by extension, deaths – in order to alleviate the devastating toll. of the economy which has cut more than 20 million jobs in one month.

If Kemp is forced to reintroduce measures of social distancing, his failure could be a devastating blow to hopes of national reopening and the desire of every American confined to his home to get out of the misery of isolation.

“I think it’s the right approach at the right time. It’s not just about handing over the keys to these business owners, “said Kemp, but admitted that his move could cause more infections.

“We will probably have to see our cases continue to increase, but we are much better prepared for this now than more than a month ago,” he said, saying Georgia had enough beds. hospital, testing and knowledge. to control the virus.

But Van Johnson, the Democratic mayor of Savannah, told Erin Burnett of CNN that the decision “amazes us”.

“I am more than disturbed. In my mind, it’s reckless. Our reality here in Savannah is that our numbers continue to rise, “said Johnson.

Stacey Abrams, who lost to Kemp in a controversial 2018 governorship and is a possible Democratic vice president choice, called the reopening “dangerously incompetent” on Twitter.

Former George W. Bush administration counselor and renowned cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner warned that Kemp’s decision was “a breach of duty … this crisis has not abated in this state.”

Reiner said that the positivity rate of those tested in Georgia was “huge 23%”. In Germany, which has conducted an extensive testing program and started a cautious reopening of small shops and businesses on Monday, the positivity rate of a higher capital test level is 7%.

“In Georgia, the virus is still very, very active and this behavior is frankly reckless,” he said on CNN.

Dr. Deborah Birx, who appeared alongside Trump at the White House, declined to directly criticize Kemp, adding that each governor should assess their state’s readiness.

“We asked each governor to follow the directions,” said Birx.

In its rather vague guidelines, the White House plan provides for a downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses reported within 14 days before the incremental opening can begin.

But Georgia has not experienced a sustained downward trend in the past two weeks.

There were more than 5,700 new cases of coronavirus last week. The number was down 6% over the week ended April 12, when 6,000 cases were added, but is still higher than the week ended April 5, when fewer than 3,800 new cases were added. cases have been reported, according to figures collected by Johns Hopkins University and CNN.

Experts also say the state’s relatively low test rate means that many cases may go undetected.

The momentum toward reopening has been boosted by South Carolina, which opened some limited-capacity stores on Monday. Tennessee, which has registered 152 confirmed deaths and 7,238 cases, announced that the vast majority of businesses would open on May 1. The city of Jacksonville, Florida has reopened its beaches.

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An optimistic Trump rejected on Monday several governors’ claims that the test rate in the United States is insufficient to allow even less affected states to begin easing the restrictions.

Vice President Mike Pence informed the governors during a call on Monday to several sites and laboratories in their states that could perform tests that the White House suggested that local authorities had not identified.

Health professionals and governors say there are still not enough tests, even to diagnose people with symptoms of the disease. Some areas have test kits, but not the swabs or reagents needed to diagnose patients.

A governor, Republican Larry Hogan of Maryland, used an agreement with South Korea, negotiated by his wife, from East Asia, to bring in half a million test kits.

Trump went wild against Hogan, saying there were already enough test sites in his state.

“I don’t think he needs to go to South Korea. I think he needed to gain some knowledge – would have been helpful, “said Trump.

The White House has always predicted that tests are on the verge of reaching record levels. But only just over 4 million tests have been done since early March. Public health experts and think tanks say it may be necessary to perform millions of tests per day to open up the economy and detect new viral infections, their origin and for all potential patients exposed to isolation.

The president rejected the idea that mass testing was necessary without giving any scientific or epidemiological justification.

“Not everyone thinks we should be doing as many tests,” said Trump. The president also reengaged in a prediction based on fitted models used by the White House that the total number of deaths in the United States could reach around 60,000 until August.

With the rapid increase in the number of deaths, this figure now seems far too optimistic.

CNN’s Ethan Cohen contributed to this story.

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