One-On-One with Gov. Brian Kemp: Georgia’s Response to Coronavirus

CSRA News

The Means Report tries to keep you up to speed on the ever-changing Coronavirus pandemic. It is impacting communities, each and every day. Brad Means recently had a conversation with the Governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp. We discuss Georgia’s response to the coronavirus, in depth – try to get all of your questions answered from the governor. This interview trying to cover many of the hot topics related to the coronavirus and Georgia’s response to it. Governor Kemp kind enough to be with us for a few minutes.

Brad Means: Governor Kemp, I know this is an extremely busy time for you and your team. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us. We appreciate it.

Gov. Brian Kemp: Oh, thanks for having me on, Brad.

Brad Means: My first question is something we saw on television just a few short days ago. Everybody was anticipating this late afternoon news conference. They thought you were gonna shut down the state of Georgia. You did not. Why didn’t you shut the state down, and are you still okay with that decision?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Oh, perfectly okay with it. I, you know, never had that on the radar, at that point in time. I mean that’s certainly an arrow in the quiver I have left if we need it. I’ve done a lot of research, following a lot of data. Talking to the medical professionals at the Georgia Department of Public Health and many other individuals, and I didn’t feel like we were ready for that. In other countries that I followed, it didn’t necessarily work when they did that. In some ways, it made the problem worse by basically quarantining families forcing them to be together in their homes or apartments. And all of them ended up getting infected by a family member that had the virus. Then they went to the hospital, and then, it, you know, made the problem worse in some regards. So, all the people that say that’s the only solution to the problem, they’re not really being forthright in looking at what happened in other countries, and what the rates were, the infection rates and other things. And that’s what I’m doing every day. But you know, Brad, I got to balance the needs of the whole state. Every community as you well know is a lot different from others around the state depending on where you are, whether you are, you know, a great area like the CSRA or if you’re in Middle Georgia or South Georgia or you’re in the city of Atlanta or you’re a small town like, you know, I was talking to some elected leaders in Hazlehurst, Georgia and Jeff Davis County today. They don’t even have a case yet, and they’re trying to figure out whether they need to shelter-in-place or not. So, you know, I took action is based on statewide so I’m supporting the communities if they wanna do more than that, depending on what the situation they have where they are. But we also got to look about, look at the consequences of the hard work in Georgians out there, we start putting more people out of work, it creates revenue issues for the cities and for the counties and for the state. And more importantly, for those individuals that are worried about buying the groceries or medicine and keeping a roof over their kids’ house, their heads, and I have a great appreciation for that. We literally could have people losing everything they’ve worked their entire career for.

Brad Means: Yes, sir.

Gov. Brian Kemp: And I don’t think we need to do that right now. I think our citizen can stand up and fight this thing by doing social distancing, by cutting down on large gatherings and events which I took action on. You know, unfortunately, there was a lot of bars and nightclubs that didn’t heed the warnings and didn’t social distance and people were packing in there. And we’ve done something about that and close them down. And that’s not something I take lightly. I did not wanna do that.

Brad Means: Well, Governor, what do you think about what Mayor Bottoms did in Atlanta? Just a few hours after your news conference, she issued a stay at home order for the state capitol for the next couple of weeks. Should we look at Atlanta as different than the entire state of Georgia as far as the concentration of people and maybe warranting a different response for that city?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, look, I support Mayor Bottoms, I talked to her several times on Monday before she did that. She’s part of my task force. She gave a report today on our task force call dealing with the homeless and displaced. I mean, that’s a big issue we got to deal with here in Atlanta. But if you look at the the order and you take out the you know, exempted businesses, the critical businesses that have to stay open and running and other things that you can still, you know, go out and walk on the beltline. You know, I just wonder, you know that to me is not a true shelter-in-place. It’s not a true lockdown. There’s still a lot of people moving around, which, you know, I support her doing that. But I think you know, where I live, Athens-Clarke County passed it shelter-in-place but they’re not enforcing it. So it sounds good politically, and I’m sure that when people in TV network over there hear that, they think, well boy, they’re really taking action. But when you look at it, they’re not doing much more than we are. You know, Dr. Birx, that’s on the coronavirus task force, it’s the federal level for the president and for Vice President Pence, said, one day it’s gonna be the community that stops this, just like they did with AIDS and HIV. There is no cure right now for the virus. There is no vaccine, hopefully one day we’ll have that. So when have to deal with this again, perhaps next year we’ll be, you know, ready to knock it in the head. But right now, we’re going to have to deal with a lot of people getting this virus.

Brad Means: I know that you– Yeah, I’m sorry for interrupting Governor, go ahead.

Gov. Brian Kemp: For most people, this is very mild and they can handle it. But for the medically fragile, we got to keep them inside and for elderly people. We got to keep them isolated from the population. And that’s why they do the shelter-in-place for that specific group of people.

Brad Means: Governor Kemp, take me behind the scenes quickly. When you have these meetings with the CDC, of course, which is right there in Atlanta. And when you meet with President Trump, Vice President Pence and the task force, is there anything in those conversations? Is there a specific moment where you know that when you hang up, you’re doing the right thing for Georgia. That it reflects the national mission. Is it a point during the conversation where the president or vice president says, Governor Kemp, you’re doing a great job, or is it just an overall feel that you’re determining that this is how Georgia needs to proceed?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I think it’s both. I mean, the president and vice president have told all the governors, they appreciate what they’re doing. They’re working with every one of them. I would let our citizens in the state know that the president and the vice president, when we’ve had the calls with the nation’s governors, whether the press was there or not, they have answered every single question that has been asked from every single governor that wanted to ask it. And some of those have been very pointed and tense questions I can tell you. I had a great conversation with them the other day about block-granting money back to the states to help us with a decrease in revenue that we’re seeing with this drastic economic drop. I’ve been told that was in the Senate Bill that passed today. I certainly would urge Speaker Pelosi and the US House of Representatives to go back to work and pass that bill. I’m not sure why they left but, you know, they’ve also supported the governors making the decisions in their states. Whether it’s a state like New York or California that’s doing shelter-in-place and quarantining, or whether it states like Georgia, you know, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida, that haven’t gone that far yet, you know, trying to strike the balance. It’s different everywhere, and that’s the same approach I’m taking with the locals. But they know I’m here to support them as well, Brad. You know, we have a problem down in Albany. And there’s no secret. We got a lot of resources down there helping the hospital and the local community. And I talked to the chairman down there, Higgins and I said, “Do you need me to come in “and do an order to lock this thing down and help you guys?” He said, “Lord no, don’t do that.” Our people would not take that the right way. We can handle it, we just need you to support us. We need you to send some public health people here, and we need you to help us with our hospital surge, and with a place to quarantine people that may have been exposed but they’re not positive yet or they have mild symptoms.

Brad Means: Well, I sure hope so. Governor Kemp, what would you say to small businesses? I know you’re seeing it statewide. We certainly are seeing it here in the Augusta area, small businesses, with people who are terrified that their businesses are over. Can you offer any hope for those folks that maybe they can be made whole when this is over? And if so, how? Is it just writing a check? How can we help them get back?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I would be disingenuous if I was telling people, yeah, we can make it whole. Because I don’t have a, you know, we have to balance a budget in Georgia. We can’t deficit spend like they can at the federal level. I do believe and I take the president and vice president for their words that they’re gonna get help. They’re gonna get help to working Georgians that are getting affected by this by no fault of their own. I certainly support that, I’ve been working the Congress and our two senators, Perdue and Loeffler hard on getting that bill passed and they did that and I certainly am appreciative of that. We need to get the House to act now. But I can tell those small business owners this and those working Georgians this, that I’m fighting hard for you. But you gotta do what we’re asking. And we’re gonna be fighting hard to have this economy as good as it’s ever been when we get through this, and we’re gonna continue to work with you through these tough times. And I know our president and our vice president is gonna do the exact same thing.

Brad Means: What about the supply chain? I go in the grocery store every other night just to survey things. And there are a lot of empty shelves, what can you say to the Georgians about those trucks rolling, getting everything they need, bread, toilet paper, you name it, on those shelves again? Because I know there’s officially not a shortage.

Gov. Brian Kemp: Now, there’s not, it’s mainly I think more of a hoarding going on by some of our folks that quite honestly have become panicked because of the 24-hour coverage that we see. You know, I wanna continue to tell people that look, this is a scary thing that we’re facing, but we don’t need to be afraid. We got great people on the front-lines fighting this every day. We’re gonna continue to do that. We’re gonna beat this virus this virus is not gonna beat us. There’s no need to go out and buy, you know, three or four packages of toilet paper, you know, the last, you know, 10 boxes of chicken fingers. You know, get what you need to supply your family for several days or a week and then leave some for your neighbor. The supply chain is working, we’re going to keep it working. That’s one of those things that you just can’t cut, you know, shut down. We’ve placed executive orders to speed that process up and to lift weight limits and other things to move the supply chain. Our retail establishments and our grocers are working that out to make sure that happens. So, you know, if we get to having a problem with that, we’ll let you know, but right now, we don’t have that. I don’t see that coming in the future. And that’s one reason we got to keep things rolling in Georgia and can’t just shut everything down.

Brad Means: You know, President Trump in recent days has said that he hopes, “hopes”, I need to emphasize that, that we can start to see some progress on this thing by Easter. Do you interpret that? And I know you talk to him directly. Do you interpret that from President Trump as a signal to take our feet off the gas pedal right now and start to maybe relax a little bit? Because if I’m hearing you correctly, we still need to stay diligent 24/7 to fight this, right?

Gov. Brian Kemp: We do. But let me just say this. I love the president’s optimism. I think him giving the American people hope is exactly what we need. Before he said that, nobody had any idea when this was gonna end. And it may not end, you know, on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. It may take another week, it may take another month. But I’m glad he’s optimistic and we can see an end in sight because Americans and these practices, were in the middle of their 15 days to stop the spread that the vice president’s talked so much about. We’re in that fight with him. If people will practice social distancing, if they will not go to large events and events where there’s over 10 people. If they will look after and protect their elderly, and keep them out of the public for just a few more weeks, we can flatten the curve, we can beat this thing, and then we can look in opening our economy back up and putting our people back to work. You know, when exactly that is and how it looks like, we got to listen to the scientists and watch the data. And I know that’s what the president’s doing. So I certainly support him in his optimism, but I also know at the end of the day, he’s got a lot of really smart people around him from the economic standpoint, but also from the science standpoint. Dr. Fauci and Dr. Brett are just brilliant people. I talked to Secretary Azar yesterday, you know, there’s a full court press at the federal level. They have our back and I certainly appreciate the inordinate amount of time that we’ve had with them so that they understand what’s happening on the ground in the states of this country and what we need.

Brad Means: You know, I have to put in a question for my high school senior son and all of his friends, class of 2020. We saw South Carolina’s governor cancel schools through the month of April, he recently made that decision. And so you have this class of 2020, these high school kids who were born during 9/11, and then they try to graduate during the coronavirus. At this point, and I know it’s early, do you have any hope that those kids are gonna go back to school even for a couple of weeks?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I definitely think there’s hope there. I’d hate to say that that’s the plan. I had a great call with a bunch of educational leaders and school superintendents around the state yesterday, that represent a lot of those groups. We had a very frank conversation about, you know, whether we should go back at all, when we went back, what that would look like. I’m looking at that time and right now, we’ll probably make a decision here pretty soon so that they can start to prepare for that based on the information that I got from them and what we’re dealing with. But I do there’s a chance we could come back. But I also don’t want people to, you know, put that in stone, there’s a chance if this thing lingers longer than we think, we may not get them back. So I’m encouraging them to continue to do their distance learning. I would encourage your son to do that as well, I’m doing that with our high school junior. Making sure she’s getting her work done and continuing to learn and be ready to go to the next level.

Brad Means: Listen. I’m gonna play that part of the interview back for him over and over again. Just a couple quick questions for you, Governor Kemp. First of all, what’s it like in your house? What are you and your family doing to get through this and are you practicing everything you preach? I’m sure you are.

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I’m proud to say that I made a great comeback late last night. It was after nine when I finally got home. We got off our eight o’clock update call, we’re doing two of those a day, 10 in the morning and eight at night and I played our youngest daughter Amy Porter in chess and I successfully won that battle last night. So we’re doing like a lot of families and doing some board games. But I can tell you Brad, I haven’t been at the mansion too much. Marty and the girls are holding the fort down for me. We’ve been working 24/7 on this one for this is I think day 32 for me at the coronavirus response.

Brad Means: Well, I know that a lot of families throughout Georgia are rooting for us all to get through this. Listen, I have a last question about the Masters, and I don’t want you to try to predict what Augusta National Golf Club is going to do. None of us would do that. But just as a sports fan and a fan of what that event means for our state, your thoughts on trying to play the Masters before this year is over?

Gov. Brian Kemp: Well, I’m certainly for Portland, for Buzzy and Chairman Ridley to make that happen, I know they want to, I’ve had great conversations with them during the decision making process to you know, ultimately postpone the event. I know that as a grueling decision not only for Augusta National and them personally, but for a lot of business people over in Augusta area. So I hope they can get that rescheduled. We’ll be supporting them any way we can. That’s a great event, really, one of the best events and something our state is known for. And it’s just a great avenue in that area, and I believe they’ll get it done. I’m pulling for them and they know, they know how to get me if they need me to help them in any way.

Brad Means: Well, a lot of people are hoping that happens as well. Governor Brian Kemp again, I can’t thank you and your team enough for making this interview happen and wish you all the best going forward, sir.

Gov. Brian Kemp: Thanks so much and social distance everybody, help us out.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.