Governor Brian Kemp Succeeds in Safely Returning Georgia to Work
The argument that coming out of lockdown could result in large scale death has been around since the U.S first shut down its economy. Yet a week after reopening, Georgia has shown the fear may be unfounded. It has been almost a month since Georgia reopened its businesses, and there have been no spike in deaths as some had expected. Governor Brian Kemp announced his plans to do so at a conference on April 20th.
Many residents of Georgia returned to work on the 24th. Georgia was the first state to do so. Despite many concerns that the loosening of lock-down could lead to increased cases of infection and deaths, they have in fact been declining. While strict social distancing guidelines are still in place, Georgia could be used as a case study regarding reopening businesses in other states around the US.
As of May 5th, Georgia had 33,405 infections and 1,450 deaths. Approximately 350 deaths had occurred in the two week period following the reopening of businesses, which compared to the two weeks prior during lock down shows a steady decrease. There were approximately 500 deaths in the state from the 10th to the 24th, meaning not only was there no spike in deaths, the opposite was true.
Similarly, the total number of infections has gone up by roughly 7,000 during the weeks following the reopening. This is less than the increase of 10,000 the two weeks prior. The numbers indicate that the state of Georgia is taking small steps towards fighting its unemployment rates. Its actions could be largely beneficial to recovering economically from the COVID-19 crisis.
A Damaged Economy May Cause an Increase in Death and Societal Problems
Mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms wrote an article for the Atlantic on April 30th, disagreeing with Kemp’s decision to reopen. It was titled “Atlanta Isn’t Ready to Reopen—And Neither Is Georgia“. She stated that “I hope the day for Atlanta to endorse such a move will come soon, but it is not here yet.” However, the economic effects of legally barring business owners from going to work is estimated to cause the global economy to shrink by 3%.
In April 2020 alone, 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs, and unemployment went from roughly 4 to 14%, according to the U.S Department of Labor. While many companies have employees working from home, it is estimated that only roughly 30% of people can do so. This is depending on which industries they work in. This is likely to cause an unprecedented financial crisis worse than that of 2008. In 2018 there were already 38.1 million people living in poverty. The effects of the coming recession could, in some ways, cause more damage to the U.S than the virus itself.
According to the American Enterprise Institute, there is a strong correlation between GDP and life expectancy in the US. In many ways, the quicker the lock-downs are eased back, the less chance there is of stress deaths. Defined as those caused by suicides, drug overdoses or health problems related to stress. Reopening the U.S economy relies on precise timing, so that the negative effects of lock-down are not worse than that of the infection.
An Uncertain Future
The uncertainty around almost every aspect of the pandemic is causing politicians to approach things carefully. It is still unclear what the mortality rate is. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in April that it was estimated to be at 3.4%, but that was a global mortality rate, and not for the U.S specifically. There are many factors involved in the mortality rate. Things like the availability of healthcare, and limited testing or the population size of seniors in each country.
There is also the possibility that the information is incorrect. It can be difficult to discern the virus from pneumonia, or other health conditions that the deceased may have had. The death rates may be exaggerated if those infected died from other causes. In some cases they may have not been infected at all.
The lock-downs are an obvious defense against the physical ailments that come with COVID-19. Another potentially deadly aspect of isolation could be the rise in mental health problems. Loneliness and depression in the US has been steadily rising before the pandemic. Long-term unemployment of more than six months has been shown to be directly related to feelings of low mood/stress. Spending long periods at home is likely to cause problems for many in the US. Especially those who are already susceptible to mental illness.
On one hand, the mental health problems of those living alone may be exacerbated by loneliness and lack of socializing. Tensions in households are likely to be heightened. Police have said domestic violence calls have noticeably increased since isolation was enforced. Those who were already living in unstable households are at a higher risk than they were before the pandemic,. The rate or intensity of violence may only increase the further lock-down continues.
A Good Example Being Set
Due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, there are no strong guidelines around what could be done to prevent short or long term effects. However, the situation in Georgia is being monitored closely, and so far the result is positive. Despite a great deal of fear around what actions to take, Governor Kemp may have set a standard for other states to follow. It has been shown that some businesses can operate safely while maintaining social distancing and other preventative measures.
It is possible other states will follow Georgia’s example in slowly returning to regular life. Most areas are debating how to best do that even now. It is unclear what the future holds, though the consequences of remaining in lock-down indefinitely are clear.
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