Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice

The state is about to find out how many people need to lose their lives to shore up the economy.

Amanda Mull
1:02 PM ET

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A sign announces that Maui Beach Tanning Salon is reopened for business on April 24 in Marietta, Georgia. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty)

 

At first, Derek Canavaggio thought he would be able to ride out the coronavirus pandemic at home until things were safe. As a bar manager at the Globe in Athens, Georgia, Canavaggio hasn’t been allowed to work for weeks. Local officials in Athens issued Georgia’s first local shelter-in-place order on March 19, canceling the events that usually make spring a busy time for Athens bars and effectively eliminating the city’s rowdy downtown party district built around the University of Georgia. The state’s governor, Brian Kemp, followed in early April with a statewide shutdown.

But then the governor sent Canavaggio into what he calls “spreadsheet hell.” In an announcement last week, Kemp abruptly reversed course on the shutdown, ending many of his own restrictions on businesses and overruling those put in place by mayors throughout the state. On Friday, gyms, churches, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen, if the owners were willing. Yesterday, restaurants and movie theaters came back. The U-turn has left Georgians scrambling. Canavaggio has spent days crunching the numbers to figure out whether reopening his bar is worth the safety risk, or even feasible in the first place, given how persistent safety concerns could crater demand for a leisurely indoor happy hour. “We can’t figure out a way to make the numbers work to sustain business and pay rent and pay everybody to go back and risk their lives,” he told me. “If we tried to open on Monday, we’d be closed in two weeks, probably for good and with more debt on our hands.”

Kemp’s order shocked people across the country. For weeks, Americans have watched the coronavirus sweep from city to city, overwhelming hospitals, traumatizing health-care workers, and leaving tens of thousands of bodies in makeshift morgues. Georgia has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and the state’s testing efforts have provided an incomplete look at how far the virus continues to spread. That testing capacity—which public-health leaders consider necessary for safely ending lockdowns—has lagged behind the nation’s for much of the past two months. Kemp’s move to reopen was condemned by scientists, high-ranking Republicans from his own state, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; it even drew a public rebuke from President Donald Trump, who had reportedly approved the measures before distancing himself from the governor amid the backlash.

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A bench is taped off to ensure social distancing at a coffee shop in Woodstock, Georgia, on Monday, April 27. (Dustin Chambers / Bloomberg via Getty)

 

Public-health officials broadly agree that reopening businesses—especially those that require close physical contact—in places where the virus has already spread will kill people. Georgia’s brash reopening puts much of the state’s working class in an impossible bind: risk death at work, or risk ruining yourself financially at home. In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people. Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.

Estimates vary as to how many businesses might actually reopen now, but none of the Georgians I talked with knew many people who intended to voluntarily head right back to work. That was true in Athens, which has long been one of the Deep South’s most progressive cities, as well as in Blackshear, a small town in the rural southeastern part of the state that tends toward conservatism. Kelly Girtz, the mayor of Athens, estimated that about 90 percent of the local business owners he had spoken with in the past week had no intention of reopening immediately. “Georgia’s plan simply is not that well designed,” Girtz says. “To call it a ‘plan’ might be overstating the case.”

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​(Parris Griffin / Getty)

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/04/why-georgia-reopening-coronavirus-pandemic/610882/

Anguished Young Woman

The decision was made to publish the entire article because the obviously anguished young woman is from the greater metropolitan Atlanta area and was published in the venerable New York Times.

Surviving Coronavirus as a Broke College Student

We need better options. Our rent is due April 1.

By Sydney Goins

Ms. Goins is a senior English major at the University of Georgia.

March 30, 2020

SUWANEE, Ga. — College was supposed to be my ticket to financial security. My parents were the first ones to go to college in their family. My grandpa said to my mom, “You need to go to college, so you don’t have to depend on a man for money.” This same mentality was passed on to me as well.

I had enough money to last until May— $1,625 to be exact — until the coronavirus ruined my finances.

My mom works in human resources. My dad is a project manager for a mattress company. I worked part time at the university’s most popular dining hall and lived in a cramped house with three other students. I don’t have a car. I either walked or biked a mile to attend class. I have student debt and started paying the accrued interest last month.

I was making it work until the coronavirus shut down my college town. At first, spring break was extended by two weeks with the assumption that campus would open again in late March, but a few hours after that email, all 26 colleges in the University System of Georgia canceled in-person classes and closed integral parts of campus.

UGA professors are currently remodeling their courses and revising their syllabuses for online learning. Students were advised to not return to the campus at Athens from their vacations or hometowns. Our May graduation ceremony was even canceled without any hope of rescheduling it for a future date.

After this news, one of my housemates drove for 12 hours to her mom’s house in Chicago. Another gave me a few rolls of toilet paper and left with her boyfriend for a neighboring county.

The dining hall I worked at remained open. UGA allowed to-go meals for those still living in their dorms without a place to go. Student workers who didn’t leave for the break could call in and ask to work their usual shifts, but on many occasions, the staff wouldn’t answer the phone.

So far, an athletics trainer and honors student have tested positive for the coronavirus. They were last on campus on March 6. As of Tuesday, one person has died in the Athens hospital. Some students are asking for the semester to end with a pass-fail grading scale. This would help those without access to Wi-Fi or a distraction-free environment. I didn’t even have a personal laptop to use until a few weeks ago. It broke in November and I couldn’t afford to fix it until recently.

What if I had to do intensive schoolwork on a lagging smartphone? For the last three years, I have relied on the libraries and other on-campus resources like interlibrary loans and the bus system in order to complete my coursework. Now, the university is refunding us around $128 for services that we may need for a semester online.

After three years as an undergrad, I will graduate in May. I had applied to two highly selective creative writing programs with the ambitious hopes of acceptance. Brown University sent me an email to check the portal, and Iowa Writers Workshop sent me a letter through the mail. Both were rejections.

I pivoted my plans. I thought I could find another restaurant job in Athens or hopefully an internship during the summer until I could apply to grad school again. Those odds are not in my favor anymore. Many restaurants here have closed indefinitely or only offer takeout options. They are not hiring anytime soon.

A local coffee shop and bar, Hendershots, has started a GoFundMe for their out-of-work employees with around $10,000 raised so far. Just the Tip: Athens Virtual Tip Jar also allows regular customers to send their favorite servers tip money they would normally leave on a night out. Many service industry workers my age have added their names to this list.

Not all college students are gallivanting across the white sand beaches of Florida without a care in the world. This pandemic affects young people too. Our future depends on the efforts of the national and state governments. Coronavirus testing is extremely limited in Georgia. For its 10.52 million residents, only 100-200 state tests are available each day.

“The state does not have the capacity to test those with mild symptoms,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, in a news conference call last week.

On Thursday night, Athens-Clarke County unanimously passed an ordinance that enforces social distancing and a “shelter in place” rule, eliminating nonessential travel and large gatherings. Over 60 percent of the city’s population — the homeless, elderly, and those with pre-existing conditions — are susceptible to Covid-19.

Local grocery stores had already limited their hours and lacked essential food items like beans, rice and paper goods, showcasing barren shelves. I had a panic attack, looking at items marked “out-of-stock” on the Instacart app and watching peers post photos online. I asked my mom if I could come home.

We drove through the empty Atlanta highway, away from my struggling college town. Now, I am back in Suwanee with dwindling savings, still having to pay rent until the end of my lease in July. I won’t have an income to pay it.

For college students like me, the current solutions are: File for unemployment! Find a job at Kroger or Aldi at the detriment of your physical health! Call your potentially toxic parents! Tax refund! Personal loan! Sell your belongings!

These options are not good enough. College was supposed to give us hope for our financial future, not place us back in our parents’ houses without jobs.

Mortgage and rent payments must be suspended, so further debt and illness can be avoided, especially for restaurant servers, broke college students and those in the working class who cannot afford to escape financial crises. Our rent is due April 1.