ATLANTA — A congressional coronavirus crisis subcommittee has released responses from states that landed at the center of a summer probe into the COVID-19 response.
The subcommittee wanted to know why four states, including Georgia, had not aligned with weeks of key White House Task Force recommendations to curb COVID-19 cases and spread. Many of those recommendations called for mask mandates, the closures of specific businesses and restrictions on gatherings of 10 or fewer people.
The probe is a result of leaked, weekly assessments showing how the task force had been guiding states that were in the worst shape over the summer.
Channel 2 Action News had previously requested confirmation and details on the response but did not receive a response to the requests from the subcommittee or the governor’s office. The bipartisan subcommittee, led by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), released the responses online Monday night, along with several weeks’ worth of task force reports.
In an Aug. 12 letter, Gov. Brian Kemp wrote to the subcommittee, detailing Georgia’s progress. That included a 10% drop in hospitalizations, increased testing capacity and lower positivity rates. He noted residents grew complacent.
“Summer holidays coupled with televised protests caused many to let their guard down and abandon guidance provided by public health officials,” Kemp wrote.
Kemp ended the letter with a note to critics.
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“Over the last several months, many have tried to exploit this pivotal moment for personal or political gain,” Kemp wrote. “Frankly, it is sad and disappointing. People are dying, businesses are hurting and most Americans are concerned about what the future holds. Now is not the time for petty games or hidden agendas. We must set our differences aside and work together to overcome the challenges before us.”
Recommendations and question of public release
Sunday’s report was the best assessment for Georgia since June but still painted a bleak national picture. It noted steady case and test positivity declines, with Georgia’s move from the second- to seventh-highest rate of new infections.
But it also highlighted rural red zones in more than 70 counties, a 10% decrease in viral test reports and the state reporting almost double the national rate of new cases: 148 cases per 100,000 people.
While there are no mask mandate recommendations this week, marking the first week of such an assessment, there is a call to close gyms and bars, as well as limit restaurant capacity. Georgia’s current cap on gatherings is at 50 people, but the task force is pushing for settings of 10 people or fewer.
There’s also a focus on testing availability for college campuses.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr caught up with Kemp briefly, following an economic development announcement in Gwinnett County.
“They have more stringent recommendations week after week. What do you make of those?” Carr asked.
“Well, I certainly respect the team at the White House,” Kemp said, noting recent calls with Dr. Deborah Birx, Vice President Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci.
But Kemp touted the expertise of Public Health Director Dr. Kathleen Toomey and recent COVID-19 milestones that have marked vast improvement in case count and hospitalizations, echoing his subcommittee response.
“We’re doing the contact tracing,” Kemp said. “We know where the hot spots. And some of the recommendations they’ve had in the White House report, they’ve had for a long time, but we’ve moved on past some of those, and we have very successfully for a long time.”
“They’re (the White House Task Force) trying to give us guidance, but we’re the ones who are having to deal with what’s happening on the ground in Georgia, and I think they respect that,” Kemp continued.
“Will you make them public?” Carr asked, referring to the White House Task Force assessments. “Will you make those reports public each week Governor Kemp?”
The governor did not respond as his team ended questions, walking away to continue with an economic development tour. The crisis subcommittee is pushing for the White House to publish the weekly reports.
Just two weeks ago, Oklahoma’s governor began having the assessments published online after pushback from state leaders regarding private communication. Oklahoma was also a state at the center of that subcommittee probe.
Before ending the question-and-answer session with the media, the governor warned Georgians not to become relaxed this holiday season in an effort to avoid the summer spread that prompted the task force assessments.
“Make sure you’re wearing your masks, socially distant and being respectful of other people. And let’s try to avoid that spike,” Kemp said.
Cox Media Group