ATLANTA — From raucous college parties and packed nightclubs to large political rallies held indoors, so-called super-spreader events have made headlines a lot recently.
After an Instagram video surfaced of people flocking to an Atlanta nightclub over Labor Day Weekend, Atlanta City Council President Felecia Moore raised concerns.
“It seems everyone threw caution to the wind and went out there and had themselves a good time. But you know, a good time at the expense of people’s health,” she told Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik. “There was no social distancing. There were no masks being worn.”
Moore said it’s difficult for Atlanta police to stay on top of large gatherings while handling their other duties.
“We’ve got a lot of issues with little resources to deal with them,” said Moore. “There’s not enough enforcement officers out here to make everybody do what they’re supposed to do. People have to take personal responsibility.”
Gov. Brian Kemp has partly blamed the summer COVID-19 surge on large gatherings that defy his executive order, which prohibits gatherings of 50 or more people when social distancing can’t be achieved. He also mainly puts the onus to enforce the order back on local governments.
“We’re glad to help if we can,” Kemp told Channel 2′s Richard Elliot. “We’re not the local law enforcement. Obviously, we’ve got to deal with the highways from the state patrol perspective.”
Petchenik wanted to find out if local governments are enforcing the governor’s order. And, if so, how they are doing it, so he reached out to dozens of government officials at the local, county and state levels.
Some police, such as those in Gwinnett County, told Petchenik they rely solely on Georgia State Patrol to enforce the governor’s orders. Others, such as Brookhaven, said their local police department looks into complaints.
Petchenik reached out to Georgia State Patrol and asked for an accounting of complaints from the time of the governor’s June 11 order until late August, and records showed only 675 complaints across the state.
Here’s the breakdown:
Here’s how the complaints broke down geographically:
Of the complaints about large group gatherings, records showed troopers only found actual issues at seven locations and only handed out warnings at those spots.
“It’s not going to stop,” said Alpharetta resident Patricia Samuel, who contacted Petchenik to complain about large groups consistently gathering at her neighborhood pool. “It’s going to continue spreading if we don’t all do our little part.”
Microbiologist and former Mercer University professor Dr. Amber Schmidtke told Petchenik it’s hard to prove Kemp’s theory that large group gatherings fueled the summer surge.
“It’s kind of hard to know what’s going on given our state’s constraints for contact tracing,” she told Petchenik. “When we’ve only got a fraction of the workforce we need, there’s no way we can possibly know where all of these cases are coming from.”
Department of Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam told Petchenik the state currently has 1,630 case investigators and contact tracers.
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“It is difficult to say how many contact tracers are enough,” she said in an email. "As our daily number of new cases goes down, the more manageable contact tracing becomes. However, a huge barrier to effective contact tracing is the lack of cooperation from the public when DPH calls. If no one is willing to share information about their contacts while they were sick, then the number of people doing contact tracing becomes less relevant. "
While Schmidtke agrees that keeping large groups from gathering without masks will help, she argues following the White House Coronavirus Task Force suggestions may help more to stem the spread of COVID-19.
“Things like a statewide mask mandate would go a long way. They also recommend social gathering bans, depending on your locality — whether that’s a limit of 10 people or 25 people,” she said.
Schmidtke questions the governor’s own adherence to his order in light of recent political rallies at which he spoke indoors to large crowds, many of whom weren’t wearing masks or socially distancing.
“You can’t really blame local jurisdictions for not policing something when the governor himself isn’t recommending that same ban,” she said.
When asked earlier this week about the example he’s setting by appearing at such events, Kemp said he wore a mask himself and that he’s reminding people to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay socially distanced and adhere to his executive order.
“We’ve had political events, other issues, protests where people have First Amendment rights,” Kemp said. “What we’re trying to do is get people to be respectful of the four things we’re asking them to do.”