Georgia’s Governor Brian Kemp gave a press conference on Wednesday, announcing a new shelter-in-place order that’s been long overdue. But Kemp also admitted something that should terrify every person living in and around Georgia: Kemp claims he didn’t know until this week that the new coronavirus could be spread by people who aren’t showing symptoms of covid-19.
“What we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now— that if you start feeling bad, stay home—those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad, but we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours,” said Kemp.
Governor Kemp, a Republican who took office in 2019 under questionable voting practices, said at the press conference that his top public health advisor, Kathleen Toomey, described evidence of asymptomatic transmission as a “game changer.”
It’s not clear if Kemp is lying about only learning this recently, or if he’s really that uninformed. But the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been warning about asymptomatic transmission for over a month.
On January 31, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told reporters, “there’s no doubt [...] that asymptomatic transmission is occurring.”
As February continued, and the number of cases started to rise in the U.S., we learned more and more about asymptomatic transmission. There were still questions, but the CDC director confirmed by mid-February that people without symptoms were spreading the disease.
“There’s been good communication with our colleagues to confirm asymptomatic infection [...] to be able to get a better handle on the clinical spectrum of illness in China. What we don’t know though is how much of the asymptomatic cases are driving transmission,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN on February 13.
When a reporter pointed out the obvious to Kemp yesterday—that we’ve known about asymptomatic spread for a while—the governor deferred to his health advisor but said that they’d been on two calls a day with the CDC “for well over a month” and that they only learned about it this week.
“We knew... you could tell from the pattern of spread, and we knew from the cruise ships that there’s likely asymptomatic transmission. CDC guidance and our own testing patterns were based on testing people with symptoms. So all of our epidemiological models were based on people with symptoms,” Toomey, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, said on Wednesday.
We do know more today than we did a month ago. For instance, Dr. Redfield said earlier this week that roughly one in four covid-19 infections in the U.S. may come from people who don’t have any symptoms at all. That’s incredibly high for a disease of this kind. And in Iceland, some data suggest that as many as 50 percent of cases in that country may have been caused by asymptomatic people who simply didn’t know they were carriers.
Georgia currently has 4,748 identified cases and 154 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. The U.S. more broadly has 216,772 cases and 5,137 deaths, numbers that are changing by the minute.
How could Kemp and his advisors be so uniformed? For one thing, even if the governor was getting advice from the CDC behind closed doors, the CDC hasn’t given a press briefing in weeks. Instead, the White House has been organizing press briefings everyday that are often filled with irrelevant incorrect information from President Trump himself.
Trump, for example, spent time yesterday boasting about how popular he is on Facebook. And the day before that he invited the founder of MyPillow to speak at the podium, a puzzling choice.
“God gave us grace on November 8, 2016, to change the course we were on,” Mike Lindell, the CEO of MyPillow said from the Rose Garden after being invited to speak by Trump. “God had been taken out of our schools and lives. A nation had turned its back on God. I encourage you to use this time at home to get back in the word, read our Bibles and spend time with our families.”
The speech by Lindell was met with confusion, since it’s obviously much more valuable to hear from public health experts than people who just a few years ago settled lawsuits over deceptive marketing claims.
But even if Governor Kemp’s only source of information from the CDC had been bullshit communicated secondhand from Trump, that’s really no excuse. The CDC headquarters is in Atlanta, Georgia. But instead of getting answers, he’s put his residents at risk of a much more deadly outbreak.
At least 47 long-term elderly care facilities have covid-19 outbreaks right now, and National Guard troops have been deployed to nursing homes in South Georgia to assist in the public health emergency. The number of cases is only going to rise in the coming weeks and it’s depressing to think of how many more lives could have been saved if Georgia’s Governor had issued a stay-at-home order weeks ago, like the state of California did for its 40 million residents on March 20.
Again, we don’t know if Governor Kemp was truly ignorant of asymptomatic spread or whether he’s lying to cover his ass. But either way, it’s not a good sign. And many more people are going to die before this is all over. Even by the most optimistic estimates, President Trump says that anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 Americans will be killed by the new coronavirus. With Kemp’s inaction and idiocy, a larger percentage than necessary will likely be Georgians.