Yesterday, Georgia governor Brian Kemp joined fellow Trump-friendly Republican chief executives Ron DeSantis of Florida and Tate Reeves of Mississippi in relenting to widespread pressure and issuing a statewide stay-at-home order. What made this particular change of course significant is that it was accompanied by a gubernatorial admission of ignorance:
There have been credible reports about asymptomatic transmission at least since January, and generally accepted evidence that it was real and a very big deal for over the last several weeks. Here’s a summary of the growing consensus from CNN on March 19.
Several experts interviewed by CNN said while it’s unclear exactly what percentage of the transmission in the outbreak is fueled by people who are obviously sick versus those who have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, it’s become clear that transmission by people who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic is responsible for more transmission than previously thought.
We now know that asymptomatic transmission likely [plays] an important role in spreading this virus,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Osterholm added that it’s “absolutely clear” that asymptomatic infection “surely can fuel a pandemic like this in a way that’s going to make it very difficult to control.”
The only real controversy in recent weeks has been about the relative significance of asymptomatic transmission, not its existence. Yet the whole subject seems to have been news to Brian Kemp, who called the idea a “game changer” that he had just learned about “in the last 24 hours.”
Kemp isn’t the only Georgia Republican showing his ignorance this week. State House Speaker David Ralston, who has been spearheading an effort to force a delay in Georgia’s May 19 presidential and down-ballot primary (the presidential primary was already postponed from its original March 24 date), did an interview on Tuesday in which he attacked voting by mail as an abomination favored by “extreme liberal Democrats” that could lead to (horrors!) high turnout. Ralston seems to be under the impression that up until now Georgia required an excuse for requesting an absentee ballot (it didn’t). The Speaker also cited a common conservative fear of voting fraud via “ballot harvesting” (the practice of letting non-related third parties pick up and deliver to election officials signed and sealed ballots), which Georgia law already prohibits.
But the incident that’s really got Georgians in a stir involves Republican State Senator Bruce Thompson, recently hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19 and subsequently testing positive. He was sent home to self-isolate, and proceeded to take three carloads of people to his beach property in Florida, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:
A Florida sheriff unleashed a tirade Wednesday against a Georgia state senator who tested positive for the novel coronavirus and traveled to an island vacation home in his county.
Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith said state Sen. Bruce Thompson, a Republican from White, arrived Tuesday night at his beachfront home in St. George, Florida.
Thompson announced March 22 he had tested positive for COVID-19 after being hospitalized with respiratory issues. He could not immediately be reached Wednesday.
The county Thompson and his entourage traveled to had no known coronavirus cases, and as in much of the Sunshine State, local officials were fearful of out-of-state travelers. So Smith isn’t happy with the impromptu beach party:
“I am going to put a deputy out in front of his house and if he leaves we’re going to ask him why, because he’s supposed to self quarantine — which could lead to an arrest,” Smith told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
All in all, it’s clear the governing party in my home state needs to spend more time self-educating its members until this pandemic is over.