OPINION: Brian Kemp’s decision to reopen Georgia is reckless and potentially deadly

Blakeley Bartee

Every day, I check the Georgia Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Daily Status Report, and every day, I see the number of cases and deaths rising in the state overall and in my place of residence, Bulloch County. Thousands of Georgians have been sick, and hundreds have died from this pandemic. Yet, our governor Brian Kemp wants the state’s non-essential businesses to open their doors.

On Friday, the state will allow “gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools and massage therapists” to open, Kemp said in his address Monday. The following Monday on April 27, movie theaters and private social clubs will be allowed to open, and restaurants can serve dine-in meals.

The move is unsurprising from a government official who claimed earlier this month that he didn’t know the virus can be spread by asymptomatic carriers, despite the existing information from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Listen, if you have respect for anyone’s lives or health, including your own, you should continue staying home.

Kemp says the data has been favorable. He’s likely referring to a decrease in daily new cases. But since his address yesterday, the number of cases in Georgia went from 18,947 to 19,881, according to the DPH at noon today and yesterday, and the number of deaths listed went from 733 to 799. That’s 66 deaths added to the list within 24 hours. Here in Bulloch County, there are three more cases on today’s noon report than yesterday’s. People are still contracting this virus and dying.

Our governor’s decision came shortly after President Trump’s “reopening America” guidelines, which arrived amid protests from people who believe their freedoms are being restricted by mandatory social distancing measures. Here in Georgia, it seems they got what they wanted. The freedom to spread a deadly pathogen.

“Freedom” will not save you from a deadly virus. The only thing that can save you from a global pandemic is avoiding contracting it, and social distancing is how you avoid contracting it.

Georgians, if your desire for professional highlights or movie theater popcorn outweighs your respect for your neighbors’ lives and health, please reevaluate your priorities.

Here are the people our governor believes should risk their lives for others’ convenience: the man who cuts your hair. The kid who takes your movie tickets. The guy at the bowling shoe counter. The parent who waits tables at the restaurant. The lady who threads your eyebrows or paints your nails. The people who wipe down the gym equipment. And their families: their children, their parents, their husbands and wives. All of them, risking their lives for people who pretend they’re invincible.

Business owners, if you choose to open your doors Friday and Monday, you are putting your employees at risk. Implementing slight precautionary measures cannot change the fact that cutting someone’s bangs requires someone to be nearly close enough to a customer to feel their breath.

Already, essential workers like nurses and grocery store employees have been putting themselves at risk to serve the public and put food on their tables, and now, even more people may be exposed because a small number of citizens want to get French tips during a global crisis.

The plight of businesses struggling to stay afloat during the epidemic is important and does affect the financial stability of their employees. However, whether a business is thriving will not matter if their employees and customers are in the hospital or dead.

Don’t just take it from me. One thing Brian Kemp and I have in common is our lack of a medical degree. The CDC continues to recommend social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19. For more information about social distancing, click here.

Fellow Georgians, you have a choice to make, and it is a choice that will determine the fate of many lives. You can continue social distancing and save yourself and others from hospitalizations or worse, or you can put yourself above everyone else.

Going to spin class or getting your hair done is not worth risking the lives of your families and communities. In a time when our notion of “freedom” is taking precedence over the value of our lives, I ask you to make the choice to stand up for yourself and your community by staying home.

Blakeley Bartee, The George-Anne Editor-in-Chief, gaeditor@georgiasouthern.edu