Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 22, 2020

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May

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 22, 2020

John Hancock was elected President of the Second Continental Congress on May 24, 1775.

On May 22, 1819, the steamship Savannah left the port of Savannah for Liverpool, England. After 29 days, it became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. On May 22, 1944, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the voyage of the Savannah.

On May 22, 1856, Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with his cane. Brooks used the cane as the result of injury sustained in a previous duel, and found Sumner at his desk in the Senate Chamber. In the course of a two-day Senate speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have nullified the Missouri Compromise on the expansion of slavery, Sumner had criticized three legislators, including a cousin of Rep. Brooks, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened on May 24, 1883.

On May 22, 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the commencement address for Oglethorpe University at the Fox Theater in Atlanta.

Serial bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot to death near Sailes, Louisiana by a group of LA and Texas state police on May 23, 1934.

On May 23, 1954, the NAACP petitioned the Fulton County Board of Education to desegregate after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Then-Lt. Governor Marvin Griffin announced his candidacy for Governor on May 24, 1954.

Former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter won the Virginia Caucus on May 23, 1976, gaining 24 delegates.

On May 23, 1990, the NFL announced that Atlanta would host the 1994 Super Bowl.

John Smoltz tied the record for most strikeouts by a Braves pitcher, throwing 15 Ks against Montreal Expos on May 24, 1992.

Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan, who was born on May 24, 1941.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Air Force Two will land in Georgia today with Vice President Mike Pence, according to the AJC.

The Republican plans to have lunch with Kemp before a roundtable discussion with restaurant executives at Waffle House’s headquarters in Norcross. He’ll then return to Dobbins Air Reserve Base for his flight back to Washington.

It will be Kemp’s first in-person meeting with Pence since a public spat with the White House erupted when President Donald Trump strongly criticized Kemp for rolling back coronavirus restrictions in late April.

The stop at Waffle House’s headquarters is also noteworthy. The company’s chairman, Joe Rogers Jr., forcefully urged state officials not to ban dine-in services, arguing that the economic damage would outweigh the public health benefits.

Kemp’s executive order allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms starting in late April as long as they follow dozens of safety regulations, and many Waffle House locations in Georgia soon took that step.

Pence will be joined on Air Force Two by U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who has aligned herself with the White House as she faces Republican congressman Doug Collins – a close Trump ally – and 19 other challengers in November’s special election.

Governor Brian Kemp held a press conference yesterday to update Georgians on COVID-19, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Kemp and Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey told reporters that the state would own up to any errors it makes in the reporting of coronavirus data and asked for the public to be patient.

“I have said from the very beginning that we are making decisions based on data, science, and the advice of public health officials like Dr. Toomey,” Kemp said. “We are also committed to full transparency and honesty as we weather this healthcare crisis. Georgia families, businesses, local leaders, and the press deserve accurate data.”

“I want people to know they can be confident in the data,” Kemp said Thursday. “But also, look we’re not perfect. We’ve made mistakes. When we do that, we’ll own that, change it and make sure people are aware of that.”

Kemp also told reporters Thursday that CVS Health is opening 23 new drive-thru testing sites across Georgia to expand the state’s testing capacity.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, Georgia reported 407,731 tests, but the state website now includes a disclaimer that antibody tests are included in the count. State health officials reported 40,405 coronavirus cases and 1,754 deaths.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune:

Meanwhile, the number of people hospitalized for coronavirus has fallen sharply over the past several weeks to below 1,000 patients this week, marking a promising sign the virus may be slowing.

That trend comes as state officials are sending out more personal protective equipment to hospitals, creating a training program for disinfecting elderly care facilities and boosting staff for Georgia’s new contact-tracing program.

Mass testing to confirm whether a person has contracted coronavirus is critical for health officials to pinpoint where new outbreaks may be cropping up, as many people begin resuming aspects of their normal lives following Kemp’s May 1 decision to end the state’s mandatory shelter-in-place order.

Toomey said about 500 contact tracers have been hired so far, with another 500 tracers on track to be hired by mid-June. To date, those tracers have conducted interviews with more than 3,300 coronavirus-infected persons and identified more than 9,000 people with whom they interacted.

From the AJC:

Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday he has ordered a review of how the state is reporting coronavirus figures, and he asked the public to have patience with health officials after a string of missteps raised questions about the accuracy of the latest data about the outbreak.

“We’re not perfect. We make mistakes,” said Kemp of the criticism over mistakes in reporting data on COVID-19 in the state public health data website. He said increased pressure to more quickly update the data has likely contributed to the errors.

“We’re continuing to work and improve all of our reporting systems,” [Dr. Toomey] said. “That’s what’s going to give us the ability to respond accurately.”

The Georgia Supreme Court will begin re-opening under a new operating order, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton is restarting cases and reinstating filing deadlines in the state in an order designed to keep the court operating to the fullest extent possible during and after the statewide judicial emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the court said in a press release.

The new orders, which were scheduled to be filed Thursday, May 21, recognized that most of the deadlines imposed by the court’s rules pertain to the e-filing of written documents rather than proceedings requiring in-person contact, the court said.

“We have cases that are ready to move,” Melton said. “We have the capacity to move them safely. So we will. This is what the latest extension of the declaration is trying to accomplish across the state.”

Effective May 28, parties in pending cases will have the same amount of time to submit their filings as they had remaining at the time the March 14 emergency order went into effect. Parties will be required to submit a “Certificate of Timeliness” with each filing to show the calculation of the new filing deadline.

Parties may file a motion for reconsideration or seek extensions of time for good cause related to the COVID-19 pandemic or otherwise.

Georgia hospitals are realizing financial losses from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stoppages of elective procedures, according to the Albany Herald.

Hospitals have lost surgical, diagnostic and outpatient revenue during the pandemic, and industry leaders say recent federal grant funding has not been enough to offset those losses.

Emory Healthcare on Thursday became the latest hospital system to announce staff furloughs.

Emory cited a projected revenue shortfall of about $660 million through August as it announced that it will implement schedule changes and furlough up to 1,500 of its employees. Executives and senior managers will take a pay cut of up to 25 percent.

‘While never more proud of our team’s response, COVID-19 has had a significant negative impact on our normal revenue and operating expenses,’’ said Dr. Jonathan Lewin, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare, which has 11 hospitals.

“We take any action that affects our employees extremely seriously; however, the magnitude of the revenue loss due to cancellation and postponement of the majority of our surgery, procedural and diagnostic cases far exceeds the $142 million in federal grant receipts,’’ Lewin said.

Earlier this week, Wellstar Health System, which also has 11 hospitals, said it will furlough 1,070 employees and reduce the hours of another 1,800 workers. Wellstar is also cutting executive and physician pay. The Marietta-based system cited lower surgery revenue, ER visits and hospital admissions.

Gov. Kemp addressed hospitals’ financial plight at a news conference at the state Capitol on Thursday, urging patients to get the medical and dental care they need.

“I want to strongly encourage everyone to get important check-ups on their calendar,’’ he said. “Please go to your doctor for a check-up if you are due for one.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced a five-phase plan for reopening the city government, according to the AJC.

The plan does not feature dates for when certain phases will be triggered. Instead, the city will progress from phase to phase “based on milestone metrics and recent data,” according to a press release from the city.

As of Thursday night, Atlanta remains in phase one: Stay at home.

Bottoms is continuing to urge residents to stay home except for essential trips, to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and wear face masks in public. Nonessential city facilities also remain closed during this phase.

Based on her plan, city data would need to show a consistent decrease in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the percent of positive COVID-19 test results over a 14-day period before phase two is enacted. In addition, hospital and critical care facilities’ capacity must remain above 50%.

The University of Georgia may see higher enrollment for summer online courses but lower fall enrollment in graduate programs, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Indications for freshman class enrollment this fall also look “strong,” according to a lengthy memo UGA president Jere Morehead and other top administrators sent to UGA faculty and staff Thursday.

Forecasts for graduate student enrollment this fall, particularly of international students, are not so good, they wrote.

Some programs may be cut, and some layoffs are likely, they also warned.

“We are pleased to report that summer enrollment is going well,” the administrators wrote. “In fact, enrollment appears to be slightly higher than this time last year.”

“Resuming normal operations also is of critical importance to our financial stability. We need to enroll a full class of first-year students and maintain our current enrollment of returning students in the fall in order to manage the fiscal impact created by the pandemic,” according to the administrators’ message.

The Georgia High School Association has set conditions for the return of high school sports practice, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

During a live-streamed digital meeting by its Board of Trustees, the members debated but agreed that June 8 was the best date for schools to return to restrictive conditioning.

The return follows phase one of a three-phrase process the NFSA released earlier in the week that allows programs to begin workouts through social distancing means. Screenings for symptoms of COVID-19, limited gatherings and sanitation guidelines are at the forefront of its plans.

GPB News writes about COVID-19 related problems for Georgia’s peanut and cotton agricultural industries.

[Agricultural businessman Michael] Brooks said the cotton industry was already in a financial bind before the pandemic. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on China in 2018 that included investment restrictions and tariffs on Chinese imported goods. Some of those goods included cotton products.

“Because of sanctions on China, the cotton prices are already coming down and actually, they’ve been below cost of production,” he said. “So we’re losing money to grow it.”

The farming company received a Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payment last year from the United States Department of Agriculture while simultaneously adjusting to low profits. The government gave them a small percentage of the taxes collected on imported goods.

Cotton demands worldwide have also dropped dramatically because of the coronavirus pandemic. Retail sales plummeted and apparel stores were forced to shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, and with unemployment rising in the US, there’s reduced need for cotton goods because of a lack of disposable income.

“The higher the economy goes, more people will buy cotton and cotton products, but peanuts are reversed,” Brooks said.

Brooks said peanuts have been overproduced worldwide for the past three years, and the demand underwhelmed the peanut supply.

“As the economy does good, people can afford to buy chicken and steak,” Brooks said. “You’re not eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

WABE looks at COVID-19 risks for agriculture workers.

Tens of thousands of people travel to Georgia every year to work in farm fields and in packing plants. Many of them live in close quarters and get to work in crowded buses, and that’s raised concerns about the coronavirus spreading in a community with limited access to health care.

“Many of these farm workers, including my parents, they don’t make enough money to get health insurance, or their employer doesn’t provide them health insurance,” Erick Martinez Juarez said.

“Twenty people could use the same bathroom,” said Roxana Chicas, a nurse who is getting a Ph.D. at Emory, studying farmworker health. “If one worker were to get COVID-19 in one of those barracks, I mean, it’ll be like a wildfire.”

Transportation to and from the farms – often in crowded buses – is a concern. And even in the fields, workers can’t always social distance either.

Dr. Jodie Guest, an epidemiologist at Emory, who volunteers in South Georgia farmworker health clinics and has also done coronavirus testing at poultry plants in North Georgia, said it all adds up to make farmworkers an at-risk population.

“I think we see in these poultry plants, and prison systems, and nursing home living facilities, this rapid spread once someone tests positive, and that’s the situation we’re looking at here as well,” she said.

Statesboro City Council will tweak amendments to the alcohol ordinance to allow public drinking in part of downtown before introducing the amendments, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Rome City Commission is also considering an ordinance amendment to allow public consumption outside in the downtown area, according to the Rome News Tribune.

Commissioner Craig McDaniel expressed his concern over the way the ordinance was put forward to the board this time. Neither the ACC nor the Downtown Development Authority held a meeting, either in-person or through web-based conferencing, to discuss and vote on recommending it.

ACC Chair Monica Sheppard told the city commission through Zoom on Monday her citizen board wrote their thoughts about it in emails. The majority, she said, approved sending it to the commission to try and provide economic help to the downtown restaurants as soon as possible.

“That’s not how we do business on the city commission,” McDaniel said. “We have committees. And just about every thing we vote on is brought to us out of a committee. I don’t know how each of the members of the ACC feel about it. I respect the thoughts of all of them. They are a good committee. But just to blindside the city commission and bring this back without a proper meeting is not how the city does business.”

Commissioner Wendy Davis, who chaired the ACC at the time, made a motion to adopt the ordinance at the full city commission meeting on Oct. 9, 2017. The motion died for lack of a second.

A separate motion to oppose the ordinance was made by then-commissioner Evie McNiece and seconded by McDaniel. It passed 7-1, with Davis the lone no vote.

The Statesboro Herald surveys the Republican candidates for Senate District 4, vacated by the death of Sen. Jack Hill, on hemp as a cash crop.

The four Republican candidates for the Georgia Senate seat previously held by the late Sen. Jack Hill expressed a range of opinions Tuesday evening about expansion of hemp cultivation and production of cannabis products. But all approved of at least “medical marijuana.”

Two candidates stated that they personally use hemp-derived products for health or wellness purposes, and a third indicated he has patients who have used medical cannabis with excellent results.

The Savannah Bananas baseball team will play this season with reduced crowds and live-streaming games, according to the Savannah Morning News.

The Bananas pushed back Opening Day from May 18 to July 1 and plan to implement social distancing at Grayson, which normally as a seating capacity of 4,100. About 2,000 fans will be allowed into games under the plan this season.

“A lot of teams live stream games, but we’re trying to re-imagine what a game could look like online,” Cole said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Our games are like a circus and we want the experience to be unique with our livestream. We’re looking at showing the action with drone shots, cameras on players when they’re on the field and in the dugout and live microphones on players and coaches.”

“We’re thinking of how we could have fans making decisions like baseball has never seen before – those are the questions we are asking. Could fans make choices about what uniforms we’re wearing, who will be in the starting lineup and what kind of walk-up music players have? We want to have unique camera angles and coaches could explain game decisions while they are miked up. We’re looking at all the possibilities.”

The streaming service will cost $4.99 per month and is set to start June 23. Fans who sign up will have first access to giveaways, merchandise and other benefits. Fans can sign up at this link — https://thesavannahbananas.com/bananasinsider/.

The Gainesville Times will host online forums featuring the Republican candidates for Hall County Sheriff and Commission Chair.

Brunswick City Council has approved a COVID-19 micro loan program, according to The Brunswick News.

Downtown Development Authority Director Mathew Hill said there are 419 licensed city businesses with 20 or fewer employees who he said could be eligible for loans up to $1,000. Recipients will have two years to repay the loan, with no requirement to make a payment for the first year.

Businesses failing to repay the loans within two years will be charged a late fee on the interest-free loan, and they will not be allowed to renew their business licenses until the loan is repaid.

Hill said the demand might be greater than the money available.

“There are more businesses eligible than we have funds for,” he said. “We anticipate quite a few will apply.”

Brunswick City Council also voted to accept $1.7 million in federal aid for the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

ince the COVID-19 outbreak began, the airport has seen traffic shrink to as low as 5 percent of normal air travel. It has since begun to rebound, but the airport will need help to offset the major losses, Glynn County Airport Commission Executive Director Robert Burr told The News in a recent interview.

The money will come from the CARES Act, a $2 trillion relief package passed in March to help citizens, small and large businesses, local governments and healthcare facilities get through the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Simons Island airport was awarded $69,000, Burr said.

The Valdosta Memorial Day observance has been canceled, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Valdosta’s American Legion post normally organizes the event. Monday, the post’s executive committee voted, via teleconference, to cancel the ceremony and all of the usual Memorial Day activities, including placing flags on veterans’ graves, said Rod Pedersen, the post’s commander.

“The committee voted to follow (Gov. Brian Kemp)’s latest proclamation and follow the guidelines he established for the pandemic,” Pedersen said.

The post was established in 1923, and the commander said he believes some sort of Memorial Day observance has been held ever since.

Work to remove the M/V Golden Ray from where it capsized in St Simons Sound continues, according to The Brunswick News.

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