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Doctors React To Kemp: 'It’s A Disaster, Governor’
GPB's Ellen Eldridge speaks with Atlanta internist Dr. Melanie Thompson.
Gov. Brian Kemp recently touted falling COVID-19 case numbers and declining hospitalizations in Georgia, even as the White House Coronavirus Task Force criticized state policies and suggested closing bars and instating a mask mandate to bring the virus under control.
How can the governor and public health officials be so far apart?
Dr. Carlos del Rio, one of the state's top infectious disease doctors with Emory, said it is true, like the governor has said, the number of positive cases have come down in recent weeks from its July peak.
"It is because the community is finally doing the right things but we still need to do more, mandating masks & closing bars and nightclubs would be three of the things the report suggests we do and would be a good start," del Rio said in a tweet.
The pandemic is still raging, del Rio said, and Georgia must do better.
Atlanta internist Dr. Melanie Thompson told GPB News she wishes Kemp would make the White House report publicly available. The report leaked to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed the state had the highest rate of new coronavirus cases in the country.
"This is a data-driven report that needs to be available to the public," Thompson said. "It is not secret. It is something the White House should make openly available to all citizens, and, barring that, the governor should make this report openly available every week when it is given to him so that citizens can understand what's going on in our state."
Thompson is also one of the doctors who organized two open letters signed by thousands of practicing doctors and health care workers urging Kemp for stronger safety measures including a mask mandate.
Those letters went unanswered, Thompson said.
Kemp has long expressed hostility or indifference toward White House Coronavirus Task Force reports about Georgia's overall handling of the virus, telling reporters on multiple occasions he had either not read the latest brief or expressing confidence in the latest data from the state health department over the White House.
In a testy news conference on Wednesday, Kemp grew angry over an AJC story about the leaked task force report. The governor maintained the real story is that "hospitalizations are down 18.8% since our peak on July 30. That’s the lowest level since July 13. Our seven-day average of new cases reported are down 26%."
"I will tell you that the media only focuses on the bad numbers," Kemp said. "They never focus on the good numbers."
Those comments drew sharp condemnation from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, who is also a neurosurgeon at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
“We have the highest per capita cases in the country, perhaps in the world, right now,” Gupta said during an interview on CNN. “He wants people to have all of the information: It's a disaster here in Georgia, governor. I mean nothing has gone right, and you've actually condemned and maligned the people who have actually tried to do something. So, that’s the facts."
Kemp tweeted from his official account that the seven-day average of percent positive tests fell from 14.1% to 9.4%, while excoriating the local newspaper on his personal Twitter account for its reporting.
Thompson said the percent positive number can be difficult to understand sometimes, but it’s important to know that Fulton County makes up about a quarter of the coronavirus tests in the state.
The Georgia Department of Public Health recently added a map and a graph that shows percent positive over time, which Thompson said is helpful because it reports the percent of tests that were positive in the last 14 days by county.
Because Fulton County’s percent positive has been under 8% the last two weeks, the state’s numbers overall are lower. But other counties, she said, show extremely concerning rates of infection.
“For example, if you look at Wheeler County, their percent positive over the last two weeks was 31%, which is very high,” Thompson said. “Clayton County is at 13% and Bibb and Richmond counties are around 17% and many others are above 20%, topping out at 46%. So, we are not starting from a good place.”
While Kemp continues to tout the number of lower hospitalizations, Thompson warns that opening schools while there are high rates of community spread means officials are likely to see numbers rise again.
“We turn this around by following the science as well as the task force recommendations, which are based on sound public health metrics,” Thompson said. “And to do that, we must first stop framing this as a political battle. Stop name calling, which is simply not helpful, and focus on the science.”
The governor does not need to shut down the whole state again, Thompson said, but the White House recommendations for closing bars and clubs and restricting gatherings to 10 or fewer people would help.
Additionally, Thompson said, recommendations should be followed to pay more attention to senior living facilities, ramp up testing and contact tracing around the state where the positivity is highest, and institute a statewide mask mandate, even if temporary, for at least the next few weeks.
“Finally, let's dispense with this need for leaks and make these weekly reports public when the governor receives them so that we can sit down at the Zoom table and engage in productive science-based discourse,” she said. “That is the way we control Georgia's epidemic.”