The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.
24 hours ago a number of businesses across Georgia chose to reopen their doors while thousands of others did not…and in some alternative universe that has become our reality, that is one of the most divisive concepts of the week.
Georgia is rolling into week seven of official and organized COVID-19 response efforts. Some people have been sequestered at home since Day 1 while others have carried on with life as usual, whether that be because they chose to or because they didn’t have the ‘choice’ to do otherwise because of their employment. For seven weeks, we have watched the wagon of government creep up the proverbial hill of control, packing in a few more liberties usurped from individuals, piling on more restrictions, and converting guidelines into mandates.
As an ideological purist and a strict Constitutionalist, I have not supported the mandates that limit the movement of free people and operations of lawful businesses, though I do understand them and their purpose. My job has been impacted moderately and I feel for those whose financial situations have taken a more severe hit. As someone who is not eligible for unemployment or the ‘stimulus,’ I have joined others in asking ‘If the government is going to take away a person’s ability to support themselves, when exactly does it plan to ‘give it back’?
I have spent many hours arguing with people (since everything is closed!) about where the Constitution falls into play with a pandemic, about the semantics of the 1905 Supreme Court case – Jacobsen v. Massachusetts – in which justices mulled limits on our individual liberties – and about the proper role of government in a public health crisis. Like most of you, I have observed neighbors share personal testimonies and fears about the virus, watched as the political seas divide over how to treat a sick person, and was awestruck as government took on the unprecedented duty to provide healthcare equipment to individuals and private businesses around the state for a price tag we do not yet know.
But never in a million years would I have imagined the rub with people would be that they wanted Governor Kemp to issue more orders and mandates about what they should do with their personal lives. Not from the people who were outraged by his position on the 2019 ‘Heartbeat Bill’, or the ones who thought he did poorly in the Secretary of State’s Office, and certainly not the ones who believe in their heart of hearts that he ‘stole’ the 2018 election.
These are unique times, indeed.
On April 14th, political pundits on both sides of the aisle eviscerated President Trump for saying it was up to him when the country would reopen for business. He walked back on that position a few days later and said he would defer to the state governors.
On Monday, April 20th, Kemp announced a plan to gradually reopen some businesses in Georgia, businesses which many would argue should have never been shuttered in the first place. Some of these businesses would have the option to reopen as soon as Friday, April 24th – four days from the announcement. Opponents to the plan alleged that it was too soon, that businesses should not be forced to open on such short notice, and that employees should not have to choose between unemployment and keeping their job.
It was quickly clarified by the state Labor Commissioner that, thanks to the CARES Act passed by Congress, people could return to work and still collect unemployment and those who fear exposure or those caring for at-risk family members could file for exemptions. It was also quickly articulated in the text of the official Executive Order that no one would be forced to open their business or return to work and those would want to stay home are free to do so.
Still, the Democrats said “People will die as a direct result of Governor Kemp’s decision to reopen so carelessly and so prematurely.” Others said it was a racial thing and some claimed it was an attack on the poor. And 18 months after she lost the election, Stacey Abrams once again reminded us that she still thinks people care about her opinion of Brian Kemp. None of them, however, had any suggestion as to what small business owners and people who don’t qualify for unemployment should do if Georgia did not ‘reopen.’
As precautionary guidelines were rolled out, many businesses – restaurants, gyms, hair salons – announced on their own free will that they would wait until May 1st to reopen, or May 15th, or even June 1, citing the desire to take time to implement social distancing protocols or to sterilize their facility or simply to give employees more time to deal with everything. Others have chosen not to set a reopen date, stating that they will continue to evaluate as the situation evolves
And that is exactly what was supposed to happen. If a business owner wanted to open Friday, they could. If a business owner wants to open in five days or 10 days or six months, they can. If a business wants to poll customers to see if they have any desire to be a consumer at that business right now, they can.
This is not a ‘gotcha’ moment for Kemp or evidence that he made a mistake. ‘See! It’s too soon to open. This business doesn’t want to open either’ is not an acceptable argument against Kemp. In fact, it is the only argument Kemp needs to do what he is doing. Businesses can do what is best for them when it is best for them and the government is not going to stand in the way.
Few things in politics are just that simple, but this time it is.
The shelter in place order was never supposed to be in effect until the virus was gone. It was to prepare infrastructure and pace the medical community. Whether or not you agree with that premise does not change the purpose and or the fact that that initiative continues to be implemented. And without regard for how much you may personally hate Governor Kemp. “Flattening” the curve or measuring whether or not the spread has slowed does not mean that we no longer see an increase in total cases or deaths. It means the daily number, or the rate by which they numbers are increasing, has slowed. (Ex: Fewer positive tests came back today than on Wednesday of last week) Officials consider this a milestone because the number of tests administered each day continues to increase but the number of positive tests does not.
The number of confirmed cases is going to continue to climb. Availability of testing continues to expand. When you see a DPH report at noon on Tuesday that says 50 cases in a county and the 7:00 p.m. report says 55 cases in that county, it simply means that five more people received positive test results. They might have been sick for a day, a week, or 10 days before they were tested. They may not feel sick at all. They may be quarantined. They may be hospitalized.
Regardless, you have the option to stay home. You have the choice to stay home until May 1st, June 1st, or December 1st. You have the choice to order everything online, to change employment to accommodate your fears and concerns, and to never again frequent a business that opened on April 24th. You can criticize public health officials, President Trump, and the Governor, you can disagree with the policies, and you hate your neighbor for getting a haircut.
But when it comes to the plan to reopen Georgia, it is working just like it should.