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Coalition Demands Urgent Meeting with Georgia’s Governor; Urges Local Action to Save Lives

The Georgia Coalition 2 Save Lives, which the Southern Center for Human Rights is proud to be a member of, has requested a meeting with Gov. Kemp to discuss ways in which to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our state. The request came in the form of an open letter published in the AJC on May 8th.

There is an on-going need for proactive local action to stem this pandemic, particularly because the pandemic has not impacted all communities equally.

Recent data from the CDC shows that 83% of Georgians hospitalized with the coronavirus are Black. This troubling statistic “merits tailoring and targeting life-saving measures to communities of color, the elderly, and within Georgia’s extremely vulnerable prison populations, whose infection and death numbers are increasing rapidly.” The Coalition calls for an “ethical and moral response plan that addresses both the health and economic implications of the COVID-19 crisis,” including input from Black community and political leaders.

“We will be scheduling a meeting, but we feel it is important to meet with the Governor, not just his staff, which is an issue we are negotiating,” said SCHR Senior Attorney Gerry Weber.

Gov. Kemp allowed the reopening of certain businesses, such as nail salons and bowling alleys, on April 24. Dine-in restaurants and movie theaters were reopened on April 27, and the state-wide shelter-in-place order was lifted on May 1, just after Gov. Kemp had renewed the Public Health State of Emergency on April 30. The reopening led to widespread gathering in public spaces with little observance of social distancing or masking recommendations.

“All of us are alarmed by the images we see of people interacting in public without adhering to safety measures,” the letter stated. “This poses a risk not only to their own health, but also the health of the general public, including essential workers, employees of newly reopened businesses and people in vulnerable and rural communities.”

Public health experts recommend shelter-in-place orders remain until 14 days after there has been a downward trend in new cases. But in the absence of such an order, and with the current lack of access to COVID-19 testing, antibody testing, and contact tracing, practical and proactive steps can and must be taken to protect the public. These include mandated supply and distribution of personal protective equipment such as masks and hand sanitizers in public spaces and businesses, along with official recommendations that people wear masks whenever they leave their homes. 

Ten states and numerous cities across the country have some sort of mask ordinance in place. GC2SL has reached out to local city and county governments, volunteering time, support, and consultation, including drafting a model local ordinance calling for the widespread use of face masks that local governments can use in their own efforts to protect their communities. 

The proposed order is non-criminal, meaning it does not call for police enforcement. “We were concerned about the racial profiling and selective enforcement dangers, and this way the ordinance is encouragement and education focused,” Weber said. “We want to get the word out that we are a resource, and that local governments have an important role to play over and above the state in protecting our citizens and especially those most heavily impacted.”

The coalition plans to meet with local government leaders at 2 p.m. today.