You would think that after Gov. Brian Kemp caught America’s collective side-eye when he revealed that he’d recently learned that asymptomatic people can still spread the coronavirus, he would be trying to keep his head low and avoid making any decisions that could even be perceived as reckless in this time of crisis. Instead, he’s decided to reopen all of the beaches in Georgia.
According to the Washington Post, Kemp made the decision Thursday that beaches would reopen for the purpose of giving people space to exercise, but the move isn’t popular with local officials.
Shirley Sessions, the mayor of Tybee Island, closed the beaches in her city on March 20 and wanted to keep them closed despite the city’s dependence on tourism. She was among the first to publicly blast Kemp’s decision.
“As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines,” Sessions wrote in a statement released Saturday. “The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk and we will pursue legal avenues to overturn his reckless mandate.”
County commissioners Peter Murphy (Glynn) and Allen Booker (Brunswick) also had choice words for Kemp, the AJC reports.
“We had carefully considered ways to keep people safe here and the governor’s order has undermined everything we were doing,” Murphy said. “I call this ‘shelter light.’”
“It is stupid and crazy at the same time,” Booker said. “It attracts to the beach larger groups of people, young and old and facilitates the spread of the COVID-19 virus, leading to people dying.”
But Kemp insists that his decision is neither “stupid” nor “crazy” and would disagree that opening beaches up would invite large crowds. In fact, he posted aerial footage of Tybee Island on Twitter showing that there were “few visitors” and the people who were there were “mostly locals and complying with social distancing orders.”
But just because beachgoers were few in numbers and following ordinances in the moments that a helicopter and camera were flying overhead doesn’t mean the situation would be the same the next day or the day after that, so why not err on the side of caution? After all, despite beaches being reopened only for people to exercise, local law enforcement has had to eject people for defying orders. From the Post:
To ensure that people are heading to the beach only for exercise, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has banned beach chairs, umbrellas and tents. On Saturday, state police on Tybee Island “occasionally made the rounds to eject beachgoers who were obviously defying Kemp’s order, with several of them sitting on beach chairs drinking beer,” the Savannah Morning News reported. “Other youths played games or went swimming, while quite a few sunbathers stretched any reasonable definition of ‘exercise’ to the point of incredulity.”
According to News 4 Jax, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported that the Peach State now has a total of 6,742 cases of coronavirus infection and a death toll of 219; 359 of those cases and 11 of those deaths were reported on Sunday alone. Maybe this isn’t the best time to be opening tourist attractions up with the hopes that everyone will behave themselves and follow safety guidelines. And maybe the guy who is just now learning the facts on how the virus spreads shouldn’t be the one to say otherwise.