Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) expressed her concern bluntly in an interview on MSNBC: “Our numbers are not going down. And simply because we have hospital beds available doesn’t mean that we should work to fill them up.”
Kemp was never obviously enthusiastic about asking Georgians to stay home, introducing an order in the state only three weeks ago. When President Trump’s coronavirus task force announced its guidelines for allowing states to get back to work, Kemp jumped at the opportunity. Here was the president greenlighting a return to normal, and Kemp didn’t hesitate. He announced some small businesses in Georgia, such as barbershops and gyms, could reopen.
For Trump himself, Kemp presented a quandary. The president is obviously sympathetic both to Kemp’s tacit motivation — get this virus behind us — and to Kemp’s political position. But he’s also in charge of the national response to the pandemic and the figurehead for the task force benchmarks for reopening, recommendations Georgia hadn’t met at the time of Kemp’s announcement.
What’s more, it isn’t only people such as Bottoms who are skeptical about the push to rescind efforts to allow people to interact. Polling shows most Americans — including most Republicans — continue to support restrictions aimed at containing the virus.
Asked about Kemp’s order Tuesday, Trump described the governor as “a very capable man” who “knows what he’s doing.” He said he was scheduled to talk to Kemp and would assess Kemp’s action at that point.
On Wednesday, an update.
“I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the Phase 1 guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia. They’re incredible people, I love those people,” Trump said, clearly cognizant that he needs to win the vote of those incredible Georgians in November.
A bit later, he noted that he had endorsed and supported Kemp, who beat the Democrats’ “superstar” (former state Rep. Stacey Abrams) despite heavyweights such as Oprah Winfrey weighing in.
“I like him a lot,” Trump said of Kemp. “I happen to disagree with him only in time and timing — I disagree. When you have spas, beauty parlors — and I love these people, I know the people from spas and beauty parlors, tattoo parlors — bikers for Trump, a lot of tattoos, I love them — I love these people — and barbershops, these are great people — but you know what? Maybe you wait a little bit longer until you get into a Phase 2.”
“So do I agree with him?” he added. “No, but I respect him, and I will let him make his decision.”
It’s worth contrasting that response with Trump’s tweets last week encouraging the “liberation” of states with Democratic governors, such as Virginia, Michigan and Minnesota.
Was the state ready to reopen?
It’s also worth recalling that at the time Kemp announced his plan to reopen businesses, his state didn’t meet the benchmarks established by the coronavirus task force before a state starts scaling back its social distancing measures.
There are three groups of criteria the task force set forth for states to reopen. One focuses on symptoms: Were the number of flu-like and covid-19-like symptoms being reported at hospitals trending down over a two-week period? A second looks at actual case totals: Either the number of new cases needed to be declining, or the percent of tests coming back positive similarly needed to be trending downward over a two-week period. The third deals with hospitals: The state needed to be able to treat all covid-19 patients and have a testing regimen in place to protect health-care workers.
It’s not clear Georgia has hit those marks. The publicly available data for symptoms is old (the most recent publicly available week of data is the one ended April 11) or broad (covid-19-like case data is reported regionally, not by state). The number of new cases in the state is rising, but its percentage of positive tests has dipped slightly for two weeks. (When Kemp made his announcement, it hadn’t.) Georgia is completing only about 5,000 tests per day statewide, according to the COVID Tracking Project, suggesting a regimen to protect health-care workers is not in place.
The interactive below tracks only the first two categories of metrics established by the White House. (Vertical lines indicate data from 14 and seven days before the most recent data.) Comparing Georgia to Minnesota gives a sense both for Trump’s hesitation on Kemp’s order — and how politics clearly comes into play in how Trump is responding to each state.
Show benchmarks for .
It’s not just the White House. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation created a separate analysis of when states would be likely to be able to scale back distancing efforts. Based on when it expects Georgia’s caseload to peak — next week — it forecasts that it will be June before the state can safely reopen.
If “I were advising the governor, I would tell him that he should be careful,” task force member Anthony S. Fauci said Wednesday. “And I would advise him not to just turn the switch on and go because there is a danger of a rebound. And I know there’s the desire to move ahead quickly — that’s a natural human nature desire. But going ahead and leapfrogging into phases where you should not be, I would advise him as a health official and as a physician not to do that."
Most Americans agree. A poll from the Associated Press and its polling partners at the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that nationally most Americans still support stay-at-home orders, including nearly three-quarters of Republicans. That holds true for keeping bars and restaurants closed, as well.
Americans broadly and members of Trump’s party specifically think the existing restrictions in their area are “about right,” according to the AP poll. Three-quarters of Republicans again say either that the restrictions are right — or don’t go far enough.
As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports, most Americans also oppose the smattering of protests against stay-at-home orders, which have cropped up in recent days — protests Trump has often encouraged.
For Trump, the issue is heavily political, as his comments Wednesday make clear. He understands the economy was a key selling point for his reelection and the current state of the economy is disastrous. He, like most people, would like things to return to normal. Unlike most people, he is willing to risk reopening the economy quickly and trying to stamp out flare-ups of the virus where they may occur.
Also unlike most Americans, the federal guidelines aimed at a cautious reopening were issued under his authority. So while Kemp is doing something Trump wants to see done, his own advisers and most Americans think it shouldn't be done.
Trump, with obvious reluctance, sided with his advisers and the public majority.