When Georgia governor Brian Kemp (among the last of the major-state governors to impose a statewide stay-at-home order) relaxed coronavirus restrictions even before Donald Trump thought it was safe to do so, he gambled that the business and employment boom that he thought reopening might produce would offset — politically, if not morally — the illness and death many experts warned him he was risking.
The jury’s still out on the public-health consequences of Kemp’s gamble, as Business Insider reports:
Roughly three weeks after Georgia began reopening businesses and lifted its shelter-in-place order, the status of the state’s coronavirus outbreak remains unclear amid a roiling debate over how to interpret recent COVID-19 data, and allegations that state officials have been misrepresenting the number of new cases.
Though Georgia’s Department of Public Health has published data showing what appears to be a significant decline in new cases and deaths, experts have emphasized that the data is both preliminary and incomplete, and suggested that the outbreak appears to be in a plateau — not a decline.
What’s more surprising, to the extent that Kemp’s already terrible reputation for handing the coronavirus could get worse, is that the presumed economic benefits of reopening aren’t in sight, as Politico reports:
Georgia’s early move to start easing stay-at-home restrictions nearly a month ago has done little to stem the state’s flood of unemployment claims — illustrating how hard it is to bring jobs back while consumers are still afraid to go outside.
Weekly applications for jobless benefits have remained so elevated that Georgia now leads the country in terms of the proportion of its workforce applying for unemployment assistance. A staggering 40.3 percent of the state’s workers — two out of every five — has filed for unemployment insurance payments since the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread shutdowns in mid-March, a Politico review of Labor Department data shows.
It’s a reminder that consumer demand is as important as business supply in reviving industries hammered by the coronavirus even before government got involved. And because COVID-19 is a real and deadly thing, just telling citizens to go work and play like it’s 1999 isn’t going to change everything overnight.
Official public-health or labor statistics are often lagging indicators of what’s going on beneath the surface. That could be good news or bad news for Brian Kemp and the battleground-state Republican Party that he leads. If infections go sharply down and people start to feel safe enough to reemerge from isolation, then you could have a positive cycle of public-health and economic news. If it all goes south, though, this state’s voters could lead a November revolt against the party that has dominated it politically throughout this century.