Kemp: ‘Pandemic politics’ to blame for White House COVID-19 report

Gov. Brian Kemp criticized recent media coverage of a White House report that said Georgia rates as one of the country's worst for COVID-19 by some measures and the state should impose more safety restrictions. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Gov. Brian Kemp bemoaned a leaked White House Coronavirus Task Force report that shows Georgia as the state with the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases in the country and said the media only focuses on “the bad numbers.”

The report, which was dated Sunday, came to light Monday after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution acquired it from a source. The document recommends the state go further to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as ordering a statewide face mask mandate.

The report’s conclusions are particularly surprising because of its origin: President Donald Trump’s own coronavirus task force.

When asked Wednesday about his concerns with the media’s handling of the report, the governor unloaded during a press conference held Wednesday to discuss his administration’s anti-human trafficking initiatives.

“This is what’s so frustrating about pandemic politics and leaked reports. We’re glad to talk about these numbers every day,” Kemp said.

“I wouldn’t be able to speak to who leaked the report, why they leaked it and what the politics were behind the leak. All I’m asking for is Georgians to get all that information,” he said.

The report said Georgia is in the red zone for both new cases last week and test positivity. Last week, Georgia was ranked first for most new cases per 100,000 population and ninth for highest test positivity, according to the report.

The report also said the state had seen some stability in new cases and a small decrease in test positivity but also noted a decline in tests performed. It said the “small gains are fragile” and urged more and stronger mitigation efforts, including in schools as some try to reopen for face-to-face learning.

Kemp bristled at what he sees as the media’s uneven focus on the state’s per capita rate, which was 216 cases per 100,000 people as of last week – nearly twice the national average, according to the task force report. COVID Exit Strategy categorizes Georgia as having “uncontrolled spread.”

The governor countered with his own set of statistics Wednesday: The seven-day average for new reported cases is down 26% since late July and that hospitalizations are down nearly 19%. The state’s seven-day average for percent positive cases, he said, is just below 10%, down from 14% last month.

He said the state’s contact tracing efforts shows transmission happening in social gatherings outside of businesses as opposed restaurant dining rooms. The report recommended restricting indoor dining to 25% occupancy.

Georgia was one of the first states to begin to reopen after much of the country shut down to reduce the strain on hospitals. The pace of reopening businesses like spas, though, attracted criticism from even the president.

Kemp often says that his COVID-19 strategy prioritizes protects “lives and livelihoods.” And he said Wednesday that businesses and jobs “will be lost forever” if there is another shutdown, although critics argue steps like requiring mask wearing could help avoid another devastating shutdown.

Kemp recently reversed course to allow limited local efforts to order face masks, but he has said as recently as Monday that he does not favor a statewide version that requires people to wear face coverings in public.

Georgia has reported nearly 244,000 cases and more than 4,800 deaths from the coronavirus as of Wednesday, according to the state Department of Public Health. Nearly 2,400 new cases were added Wednesday – down from recent daily highs.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.