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Opinion

COVID: Past time for Georgia local governments to act


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Nov. 23, 2020 - 8:48 AM

COVID: Past time for Georgia local governments to act

Prior to retirement, Jack Bernard was a Senior Vice President with a national healthcare firm. He was the first Director of Health Planning for Georgia and has been on two local Georgia Boards of Health.

“The 7-day moving average for PCR (COVID) test increased 20% from 6.9% on 11/9 to 8.3% on 11/16.”; “Daily hospitalizations have increased 10.6%”- GA DPH press release (11-17-20)

As my old-world Italian Mom once said to me, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As another Brooklyn born Italian American (Dr. Fauci) has correctly stated, all along we should have been worried about where the virus was going, not only where it’s currently located.

And the way to control COVID is via identification, isolation and tracing/tracking. Once it’s widespread, it’s already too late to fully control it, as we can see around the nation right now in numerous hot spots.

But taking preventive actions is not what Governor Kemp did during the last wave, causing Georgia to have one of the worst outbreaks in the nation. In most Georgia counties, including larger ones, a resident still doesn’t get same day testing. And there’s no indication that Kemp will act any differently now that we have begun to experience the next spike in COVID-19.

Irresponsibly, Kemp never mandated wearing a mask, even at the height of the last wave. In a meaningless gesture, Kemp decided early on that Georgia would “encourage” mask wearing, but not require it. Further, as opposed to the Governor of every other state, he decided that local governments would be prohibited from requiring them. After Atlanta and most major cities issued mandates anyway, Kemp threatened to sue the City of Atlanta, making him a national laughingstock. Under pressure, Kemp finally revised his order to permit local governments to require masks (see https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/7036922-08-15-20-01-0.html).

The pro-active Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) took the opposite approach from Kemp and should be commended. In the early months of the pandemic, the Georgia Municipal Association issued an excellent model ordinance to be voluntarily used by Georgia’s cities and counties. Some cities and counties have implemented it.

Unfortunately, this GMA model ordinance was not enacted by ideologically driven local politicians in many of Georgia’s most vulnerable cities and counties, unnecessarily endangering their citizens. Instead, these Mayors, City Councils and County Commissions have either done nothing or just issued a watered-down version of Governor Kemp’s highly inadequate state proclamations, which value business interests and profits over Georgians’ health (much like Kemp’s mentor, Donald Trump, did with the health of Americans).

Here are specifics pulled directly from the GMA ordinance which should be instituted very soon (i.e., before the pandemic crisis peaks once again) by individual County Boards of Commissioners (BOCs) and City Councils (CCs) across our state, depending on the status of the outbreak:

-The BOC/CC declares a “public health state of emergency”.

-There will be no “public gatherings” on county/city property (such as parks/recreation areas).

-Public utilities provided by City/County will not be disconnected for non-payment.

-City/County Managers will be given authority to permit telework, modify employee assignments and use reserves.

-Certain permit deadlines can be extended.

-Restaurants shall not offer dine-in services, but may do delivery, take-out and drive-through.

- “Gyms, fitness centers, pools, social clubs, amusement facilities, bowling alleys, pool halls, theaters, massage parlors, nail salons, and any other similar facility…must close and remain closed for the duration of this emergency.”

- A curfew should be enacted, with relevant exceptions.

- “Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other businesses which remain open during the emergency must post signage on entrance doors informing consumers to maintain at least six (6) feet of personal distance between themselves.”

-All public and private gatherings of more than ten (10) people occurring outside of a household or living unit are prohibited.

- “Essential” businesses as defined by the Governor or DHS are exempt.

- Single source contracting by local government is permitted (with adequate justification to be provided).

Do I think many of Georgia’s exurban and rural BOCs and CCs will actually enact the above measures? Due to partisan politics and ideological warfare, which advocates ignoring science and experts, I doubt it.

But I sincerely hope that I am incorrect. I would rather be wrong than have a virus spike… and subsequently read infuriating letters to the editor by uninformed ideologues claiming after the fact that “there was nothing that xyz politician could do” to stop the spread of COVID-19 locally.

Author’s note- One of my best friends, a Henry County resident, died last week of COVID.

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Prior to retirement, Jack Bernard was a Senior Vice President with a national healthcare firm. He was the first Director of Health Planning for Georgia and has been on two local Georgia Boards of Health.