Georgia Governor Brian Kemp told Fox News’s Martha MacCallum on Tuesday evening that his decision to gradually reopen his state’s economy was done in consultation with top public health officials who he says support the plan.
“I announced this on Monday so we can have time to educate the public and the business owners that this is just not handing them the keys back to go back to where we were,” Kemp said. “This is a measured approach with a lot of different requirements and guidance that we’re going to be putting out. And I’m very confident of that step. It was done in conjunction with public health officials based on the data that we’re seeing in our state and the gateways to the phase one part of the president’s plan.”
“I spent all weekend working with Dr. Toomey, who’s a … great epidemiologist, a great public health official, one of the best I think in the country. I did not make this decision without her support,” Kemp continued. “We poured over this data. We’re looking at all kind of different models. I’ve had hospital CEOs that I’ve been … in contact with that reached their peak way back on April the 6th. … They support a measured opening which is what we are doing. It’s going to be very limited in scope, basic operations. We’re talking about a few businesses that I closed down to help flatten the curve which we have done in our state.”
“But for us to continue to ask them to do that while they lose everything, quite honestly, there are a lot of civil repercussions of that, mental health issues,” Kemp added. “We’re seeing more patients in our trauma centers in our state because people are just you know, they’re tired of it.”
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MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: So, let’s take another look at Georgia here. Georgia’s population is 10.6 million people. As of noon today, 3,700 of those 10.6 million are hospitalized with COVID-19 and they have had today 799 deaths.
Now, it has been 14 days since the projected peak of daily deaths in Georgia, according to the widely cited IHME modeling. Now, that model assumes that current social distancing policies stay in place throughout the next couple of months.
So, let’s bring in the governor from Georgia, Brian Kemp.
Governor, thank you very much for being here this evening. It’s good to have you with us.
GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Great to be on with you.
MACCALLUM: Let me begin I guess by asking you — great to have you.
Let me ask you to respond to the Atlanta mayor, because obviously Atlanta is a very dense population, and she clearly has some big concerns about reopening the places that you would like to open.
KEMP: Well, Martha, look, the mayor and I have a great relationship. She’s doing — working very hard, just like all local elected officials are to protect their population. I’m doing the same thing. We’ve worked together on a lot of things.
You know, I’ve heard her comments about this issue and, you know, I’ve certainly had a lot of praise and a lot of criticism, but we’re taking a measured step. I would urge people to really look at the guidance that we’re going to be putting out the rest of the week.
You know, I announced this on Monday so we can have time to educate the public and the business owners that this is just not handing them the keys back to go back to where we were. This is a measured approach with a lot of different requirements and guidance that we’re going to be putting out.
And I’m very confident of that step. It was done in conjunction with public health officials based on the data that we’re seeing in our state and the gateways to the phase one part of the president’s plan.
MACCALLUM: All right. So, you know, we just watched Dr. Deborah Birx and she was questioned about your plan to reopen on Friday. And she said, you know, that she feels that it’s incumbent — and I’m paraphrasing — incumbent upon governors such as yourself to be very transparent about the data that you used to make this decision.
So, can you explain to everyone at home tonight, what is the data that brought you to this conclusion, especially given the fact that deaths are still rising in Georgia. What data did you use?
KEMP: Well, I think it’s important for people to understand how the data comes in. A lot of the data that we’re posting today, or the fatality may have happened, you know, five or six days ago, based on the type of reporting that’s being done.
I mean, look, I spent all weekend working with Dr. Toomey, who’s a — you know, great epidemiology, a great public health official, one of the best I think in the country. I did not make this decision without her support.
We poured over this data. We’re looking at all kind of different models. I’ve had hospital CEOs that I’ve been — been in contact with that reached their peak way back on April the 6th.
You know, I’ve spoken to them about the idea of doing some elective surgeries. They were supporting that decision.
They support a measured opening which is what we are doing. It’s going to be very limited in scope, basic operations. We’re talking about a few businesses that I closed down to help flatten the curve which we have done in our state.
But for us to continue to ask them to do that while they lose everything, quite honestly, there are a lot of civil repercussions of that, mental health issues. We’re seeing more patients in our trauma centers in our state because people are just —
KEMP: — you know, they’re tired of it.
And it’s — you know, it’s a tough balance. And I understand where folks like the mayor and others may agree or disagree. I’ve got some people that are protesting me because I took this step and I may have others that protest because I didn’t go far enough.
MACCALLUM: Yes, I understand.
KEMP: But what we’ve been doing — you know, Martha, and I — I’d like to just explain, too, you know, we took measured steps to get to the shelter in place. And now, we’re taking measured steps to come out of that. This is not a giant leap forward.
MACCALLUM: Well, explain, can you — can you tell me what you mean by that?
So, for instance, does — is it, in Atlanta, if someone wants to get their nails done or their hair done on Friday or a tattoo or go to a gym, I mean, these are very close contact kinds of businesses that are the first ones on your list.
Can you explain why you would start with those kinds of businesses on day one?
KEMP: Well, those are the ones who are closed. The other businesses in Georgia are still currently opening under the order that I have now. And we’re coming down.
I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand, but you also have to give that fitness owner or that owner of the hair salon the — you know, the ability to be able to be a partner in this fight that we’re in. You know, they’re going to have to follow the strict guidelines.
I would tell you that I would imagine there will be people in gyms that will be a lot safer than they would be going to the grocery store or some of the other places of business that are part of the critical infrastructure that’s been designated at the federal level.
You know, this is going to take some common sense. Our people and our state have learned a lot through this. They have helped us be a solution to the problem to flatten the curve and to start getting to the other side of this.
Our hospital capacity — you know, you have to remember, the reason we did this to start with is so we had time to build up hospital capacity. We are having — you know, record vacancies in our hospitals right now because we were getting ready for the surge. They are bleeding money, and they need help as well as, you know, our local business owners.
MACCALLUM: I understand that.
KEMP: So, we’re prepared for, you know, what may come with this and we are prepared to act. We’re ramping up testing. I’ve talked extensively about that in my press conference on Monday.
We have almost 3,000 National Guard troops that are cleaning long-term care facilities. They’ve got 10 mobile testing sites so we can go to hot spots, whether it’s long-term care, other vulnerable populations in the state.
KEMP: And them doing this is going to allow our public health officials to do contact tracing, which is another part of the plan —
MACCALLUM: All right.
KEMP: — that Dr. Birx talked about.
MACCALLUM: I’ve got a couple questions. I’d love to just get in a couple quickly for — with you, if I can.
You’ve said that businesses have to screen for illnesses. How are they going to do that? So, if — just give the gym example. How —
KEMP: Well —
MACCALLUM: If someone wants to walk into a gym in Atlanta — and we just heard the mayor doesn’t think that Atlanta is ready for this — if I want to go to the gym in Atlanta on Friday, how are they going to screen me?
KEMP: Well, it’s not saying they’ve got to screen them. These are best practices. They could do temperature screening.
You know, they can do the verbal guidelines that all businesses should be giving their employees now, educating them, do not come to work, you know, the potential for testing now and in the future.
So, you know, there’s common sense things that people can do, and, listen, we’re already doing that with businesses in our state. You know, I got heavily criticized for keeping our state parks open and our beaches open. And we’ve had absolutely no problem with allowing people to go out and get some exercise.
They have practiced social distancing. They have behaved themselves.
KEMP: And, in fact, we had people from other states coming to Georgia because they had closed their parks.
MACCALLUM: Yes. No, I think there’s a lot of widespread, you know, why we had to close all the parks I think is one of the big questions that a lot of Americans have.
But I just want to stay with you on this point because, you know, screening — so let’s say that the gym decides that they’re going to test everybody’s temperature when they walk in, but as we all know, there are asymptomatic people who are contagious to every person that they come in contact with potentially.
So, once you’ve got a fever, it’s already too late. You’ve already, you know, been five days of being someone who can spread that disease.
So how are you going to screen —
KEMP: Well, the —
MACCALLUM: — these people who want to go to these businesses?
KEMP: Yes, and the same — the same could be — the same could be happening at the grocery store and other places.
That’s why the fitness owners, I have great confidence in them spreading people out when they’re doing a workout, doing this additional sanitation that we’ve all been, you know — learned how to do now and taking those precautions with hand sanitation and having the folks working in the facilities wearing masks and other things. And we’ll be putting those guidelines out.
And, listen, if people don’t want to go, Martha, they don’t have to go. If people don’t want to open the gym —
KEMP: — they don’t have to.
But when you close somebody’s business down and take their livelihood of that individual and those employees, and they are literally at the face of losing everything —
KEMP: — I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
KEMP: I think they’re going to do the right thing —
MACCALLUM: I hear you.
KEMP: — and we’re going to continue focus on testing and contact tracing and all the other things.
MACCALLUM: You know, everybody in this country is going to be watching your state because you’re one of the most aggressive and the earliest in this process, and you’ve got, you know, mayors in Albany and mayors in Atlanta who are very much against this. So, you guys are almost going to be, you know — and I hope — I hope that you are —
KEMP: Well, I would argue that if you take —
MACCALLUM: — making the right decision and that it keeps people healthy.
KEMP: Yes. Well, I would argue if you take out Albany —
MACCALLUM: Go ahead.
KEMP: — Albany out of the situation right now, our state is a much different place. Because of a person going to a funeral a month and a half ago when people didn’t know that that was not a good thing to do, Albany has had more deaths I’m pretty sure in saying this than Atlanta has.
So, you know, you have to be relative with the data that you’re looking at. You know, I’m looking at it every day, every hour of every day. And I know in Albany, their hospital down there is now taking patients from other areas.
So that tells you we are in a good space down there because we reacted quickly to a really bad situation, and we’re prepared to continue to do that around the rest of our state.
MACCALLUM: Yes. Very quickly if you can, you’re the home of the Delta Air Lines hub in Atlanta. So, how are you going to deal with Delta Air Lines there?
And we know the president is talking about closing the borders for immigration. Are you concerned that, you know, you’re going to get your house in order and people are just going to keep, you know, flying through Atlanta and bringing things from other places?
KEMP: Well, I would tell people, the great state of Georgia has taken a lot of people from around the country. Our state, when nobody else would, was taking cruise ship passengers in a very tough situation and we were glad to work with the president and the vice president to do that. We’ve worked with our airport, as we’ve had other cruise passengers that have been flown into our state, and we had to transport them to other places.
And I can tell you, that is a well-run airport. They handled those situations great. We — we have great communication with them. Their general manager is on my task force.
And we’ll continue to deal with those type of situations, working with the president, working with the vice president, the task force, the guidance that we’re getting from CDC, and that’s what we’re going to — what we’re are going to be asking our Georgia’s business owners to do, as well as our hardworking employees in this state.
MACCALLUM: Well, we certainly wish you and the people of Georgia luck and health, and we hope that this sort of early experiment in reopening is hugely successful because everybody in the country wants to get back open, wants to get back to work.
KEMP: Well —
MACCALLUM: But we certainly hope that we don’t see a resurgence in Georgia. That’s the last thing —
KEMP: Thank you, Martha. And I would just tell you, too, this is a measured — measured approach.
MACCALLUM: All right, Governor, I hope you’ll come back and let us know how it’s going. We’d love to hear a follow-up from you in a week or so.
KEMP: We’ll do it. Thank you.
MACCALLUM: All right. Governor Brian Kemp, thank you very much, sir.