AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Mayor Hardie Davis is our special guest to talk about what Dr. Tingen mentioned and to talk about Augusta’s Fit Families, a program that’s going to help address childhood obesity. Mayor Hardie Davis was a huge reason that Augusta got selected for this program and the $120,000 grant that’s going to fund it. He also addresses the reopening of Georgia in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brad Means: Mayor Davis, I know you’re busy. We’re gonna talk about the city’s response to the crisis but I do want to talk about this effort first. How are you? I hope you and your family are well.
Mayor Hardie Davis: We are, Brad. I appreciate you asking that question. We’re doing everything we can to shelter in place and only coming out for essential travel. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in our city with regards to COVID-19 and so we’re trying to come into the office generally once a week and do the business of the people. Otherwise, we’re working from our home office. But my family’s well, they’re safe, and we’re just, again, very thankful that we’ve got a community that we live in that’s working together to try to help so many people.
Brad Means: Well, we certainly appreciate the efforts of you and all of our city workers. When this pandemic passes and we can focus on this, Augusta’s Fit Families Program, and focus on childhood obesity, great things are going to happen. I wanted to just start with this question, “What made you interested in addressing childhood obesity?”
Mayor Hardie Davis: Well, I’ve always been interested in that, particularly children and youth. When we started the efforts around My Brother’s Keeper, we saw that there were not only a number of challenges in terms of making sure that our young men graduated on time, but they graduated violent free. But we also saw some other disparities that were in the community, particularly around children who didn’t have access to healthy foods, were not in a place of being to exercise on a regular basis, and so we thought it was extremely important for us to engage our partners in the community and we’re very fortunate to have Augusta University in our city, and more importantly, the great work that Dr. Tingen and her staff are doing.
Brad Means: How accessible, you mention the need for exercise and you’re right, a lot of kids, a lot of families don’t have access to places like that, how accessible do you think we can be? How accessible can we make, excuse me, our community centers and other city facilities so these families can have a place to exercise?
Mayor Hardie Davis: Yeah, without question, you know, especially during this time of dealing with the coronavirus, it’s important for us to continue to keep our parks open. We have so many parks here in the community and people are enjoying them at this time. We’ve closed the recreation facilities themselves, because it’s important for people to get out. All of the science tells us that people need to get out in the community and we see that happening in broad numbers. People are still being able to do that while social distancing, but when you think about our children and our youth, it’s extremely important for them to get out and be able to run, be able to play the traditional sports, things like basketball and certainly football, which are contact in nature. While they may not be able to do that, they still can get out and run. They can get out and be amongst their friends and family members as well as even in our own neighborhoods, they have an opportunity during this crisis to really focus on what matters most and that’s family and the relationships that they have with one another. Walking through the neighborhood, taking the dog for a walk, or a variety of those things like that, which help bring people into that place of being healthier in their lifestyles.
Brad Means: You know, families are going to have some real input and influence when it comes to the way their neighborhoods are and whether their neighborhoods are exercise friendly. This program asks them to evaluate their sidewalks, their streetlights, and other things that might be barriers to exercise. Mayor, once the city gets the reports from those families, will you all be able to address those deficiencies and make their neighborhoods better?
Mayor Hardie Davis: Well, I think that’s a unique question for us, Brad, especially when you look at the work that we’ve already been doing in the city. Many of us have been focused around not only ADA compliance in our city, particularly in terms of downtown as well, but when you look at the fact that we’re putting sidewalks in places we’ve never had them before, which are giving people access to walk and walk for long distances in and around not only their neighborhoods but the community at large, when you think about the study that we did three years ago, the master plan around our recreation and parks facilities that will allow us to continue to make investments that are strategic in nature but they’re the right kinds of investments, especially when you see that all across the nation and especially here in Georgia, there’s a greater need for rectangular fields, fields where people can play soccer, they can play things like lacrosse as well, things that allow individuals to get out and move and use their legs to run around and to really stretch out. And so I think that on the other side of this crisis, we’re certainly going to be better positioned as a city to continue to make partnerships like this possible with a thought to the future with regards to how we, again, leverage the 60 plus parks and recreational facilities that we have in the community. I think it clearly requires us to do some right sizing. We don’t need that many for a community of our size, even when you think about the entire metropolitan statistical area but while at the same time making sure that those parks, that we see the majority of our residents at and or participating in, those are the ones that we’re going to be making strategic investments in so that we take full advantage of them. When you think about Diamond Lakes Regional Park, there’s so much that people can do out there. When you think about some of the inner city parks, like Down Park and the investments that are being made there. These are opportunities for us to really enhance the overall quality of life for people in Augusta and without question, enhancing it for children and youth who could live healthier and better lives.
Brad Means: Well, I think it’s just going to be a wonderful program and I thank you for helping to bring it to our town, the only medium-sized town in the nation that got selected for the grant. Let’s talk about our town. It seems like just yesterday it was March 14th and you were at the podium, for all intents and purposes, closing Augusta so that it could make it through this pandemic. Georgia’s Governor, Brian Kemp, as we speak is reopening the state. You don’t fully agree with the timing. Mayor, do you think that the governor’s actions are undoing a good thing we had going here in Augusta?
Mayor Hardie Davis: Well, I think as we’ve had just a conference call yesterday, in fact, with Governor Kemp, I know these are tough challenges and quite frankly, even tougher decisions that you’ve got to make in a position such as his. But at the same time, local government is where it’s closest to the people. It’s where the rubber meets the road at and we’re best suited to really have the heartbeat of our cities and communities. So when I think about the decision to begin reopening, it’s consistent with what we’ve seen across other cities as well where mayors and community leaders have said, “We’re just not ready.” When you think about the three things that everyone says needs to be fully in place, testing, contact tracing, and treatment, those things are clearly not in place at this point in Georgia, let alone fully implemented here in Augusta, Georgia. We’re still at a place of where just in the last several days, we’ve only reached 90,000 plus tests in the state of Georgia, at state of 10.7 million people. So when you look at that significant shortfall and while AU has been designated as that primary place for tests and rapid testing in the state of Georgia, it’s still going to take them a long time to increase their capability to get there. I think the number that I’ve heard the governor speak of is trying to get to 6,000 tests a day in the state of Georgia. When you look at that number, it still is woefully short in terms of where we need to be. All of the science that we’re hearing and seeing, Brad, says that we need to be doing at a minimum of 5 million tests a day in America. So when you look at the fact that we’re not able to do that, that at best we’re probably doing about 350,000 tests a day in all of America, we’re just not there yet. And to open up at this point is certainly putting us in harms way and putting great Georgians in harms way when you look at the fact that we know that we needed to see that 14 day period of time of where there was a decline. And what we’re seeing right now is an increase in confirmed cases. We’re seeing an increase in deaths. We’re almost at 22,000 confirmed cases in Georgia and that’s–
Brad Means: Let me ask you this, though and excuse me, I don’t want to run out of time but if Augustans had been carrying out your orders in a pretty decent manner so far, we’ve been pretty successful at sheltering in place and flattening the curve as a population of Augustans, can you trust us to reopen in accordance with the governor’s guidance and still be responsible enough not to get too close to people, not to endanger our community? In other words, we’ve been doing great so far, can’t we continue to do well as we go out?
Mayor Hardie Davis: Well, I’ve got great confidence, Brad, in Augustans. We’ve been a resilient community. The challenge that we have is that you don’t know who has it. You hear things like one in three people will be confirmed positive but the problem with that is they haven’t been tested. And so to the degree that the numbers say that you could be asymptomatic and carrying the virus and then you’re in congregations of people and you touch someone, you have a conversation or droplets from a person’s mouth fall on someone else, these are just the challenges that I don’t think we’re prepared to face right now, especially when you couple it with a governor saying you can go back to doing business as normal in medical facilities with elective surgeries and things like that. We talk about not wanting to see a surge in our hospitals and our healthcare facilities but when you compound the fact that you’re opening business up, especially at places like gyms, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, places where people come back and congregate in large numbers and then on Monday to open up restaurants for dine in, I think it’s extremely imperative for us out of an abundance of caution to continue to shelter in place while at the same time, if businesses are going to open, as I said just the other day in Augusta, don’t bring people in. Prepare yourselves with sanitizer, with safety measures, the PPE, and all those things in advance before you bring people back.
Brad Means: I have 15 seconds. I can’t let you go without asking this. President Trump pretty much agrees with everything you just said. Michael Bloomberg is out of the Presidential race, he was your guy, could we be seeing the beginning of a Trump-Davis alliance as he backs you up now?
Mayor Hardie Davis: Well, I’m encouraged that the President himself is now believing that science matters. If he continues to follow Dr. Fauci, I think we’re going to be in a better place not only in America, but in the great state of Georgia.
Brad Means: Well said Mayor Davis and again, thank you for your tireless leadership from March 14th all the way until now, getting us through this pandemic, we appreciate you.
Mayor Hardie Davis: Thank you, Brad. Stay safe, my friend.
Brad Means: Thank you, you too sir. Mayor Hardie Davis of Augusta, Georgia.