Georgia’s health infrastructure makes Kemp’s choice very dangerous. Girtz is worried about the state hospital. His county has two, but because of the closure of rural hospitals, he said they were expected to provide services not only to residents of Athens-Clarke County, but to the entire 17-county area around them, home to around 700,000 people. “A city like Elberton, 35 miles from us, or Commerce, is only 25 miles on the road – that’s a place where, a generation ago, you could have a baby,” he said. “That’s no longer true, and it’s also true they don’t have ICU beds there.”
Few people in Georgia are eager to be a case study in an exception pandemic, but many have no choice. Jillian Yeskel, a stylist at Roswell, whose parents who supported Trump voted for Kemp, said that he had had conversations with them in the past week that he could not have dreamed of several months ago. “I suspect they will support whatever Kemp says,” he told me. “I talk to my mother every day, and we are both very upset with her.” There are no polls available about how Georgians feel about social actions that alienate in general, but Yeskel’s experience with his parents follows a national trend: A the election conducted in mid-April by Morning Consult and Politician found that even the majority of respondents who said they looked at Trump very well or voted Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections wanted to continue social distance as long as needed.
What the Georgians can do now is try to protect themselves as best they can. If social distance is reduced because many businesses are reopened, a massive flood of COVID-19 cases can be avoided. Because infections tend to develop, maybe two or three weeks before the hospital sees a new wave of people whose lungs look like they are sprinkled with earth glass in X-rays. At that time, no one knew how many more people could bring the disease to the nail salon or tattoo salon, living their daily lives because they were told they could do it safely.
Meanwhile, local leaders whose city outages have been rejected by state law rely on other methods to maintain the security of their communities: disseminating information about testing, finding funding for food banks, creating grant programs to get a little money for local businesses in need. For some people, that includes official and unofficial duties. On his way home from the town hall last week, Girtz said, he met his neighbor, a group of student roommates, enjoying a warm spring day. He had lived in Athens for a long time, and was worried that in a city known as debauchery, some people partying outside could turn out to be many people partying outside. “They drink beer on the side of the road,” he recalls. “I just have to say, ‘You guys, enjoy your time as far as you can, but at least go up to the damn terrace.'”