Georgia Governor Brian Kemp finally announced a statewide stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus on Wednesday. Georgia was one of twelve states that had not yet issued such an order to protect its citizens.
Making the announcement, Kemp justified his decision by saying he only now was “finding out that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs.”
“Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad, but we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours,” Kemp said, adding that the state’s health commissioner, Kathleen Toomey, told him, “this is a game-changer.”
— Maddow Blog (@MaddowBlog) April 2, 2020
But how is it possible that Kemp and Toomey are only now finding out that people without symptoms can transmit the coronavirus?
Health officials have been warning about transmission from presymptomatic or asymptomatic carriers — those who test positive for COVID-19 who either have not yet shown symptoms or experience no symptoms of the virus at all — for months.
Here are just some of the times the federal government and even Georgia’s own Department of Public Health warned that people who are asymptomatic can spread the disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a lead on the coronavirus task force, said at a White House briefing more than two months ago: “You know that in the beginning, we were not sure if there were asymptomatic infection, which would make it a much broader outbreak than what we’re seeing. Now we know for sure that there are. It was not clear whether an asymptomatic person could transmit it to someone while they were asymptomatic. Now we know from a recent report from Germany that that is absolutely the case.”
Fauci was referencing a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 30 that stated an asymptomatic businessman infected others he came in contact with. “It is notable that the infection appears to have been transmitted during the incubation period of the index patient,” the researchers wrote. The incubation period is the time between when a person contracts the virus and when they first show symptoms. They continued, “The fact that asymptomatic persons are potential sources of 2019-nCoV infection may warrant a reassessment of transmission dynamics of the current outbreak.”
And slides from Georgia’s own Department of Public Health presentation on February 11 by Georgia’s State Epidemiologist and Chief Science Officer Cherie Drenzek said “instances of asymptomatic transmission have been documented,” although the slides did qualify the statement saying those cases are “very rare,” which is not how Fauci characterized asymptomatic transmission two weeks prior.
Additionally, a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state’s largest newspaper, also said on March 3 that the “CDC says it’s possible for people to transmit COVID-19 while being asymptomatic.”
The White House also issued guidance called 15 Days to Slow the Spread, which Georgia’s Department of Public Health republished on their own website, that read: “Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others.” In other words, even if you are asymptomatic or presymptomatic, you can spread the virus.
And Dr. Deborah Birx issued a warning about asymptomatic spread on March 17 when asking younger people not to go out to bars on St. Patrick’s Day. “We are asking the younger generations to stop going out in public places — to bars and restaurants — and spreading asymptomatic virus onto countertops and knobs and grocery stores and grocery carts,” she said.
In a move that would be hilarious if the circumstances were not so tragic, Kemp had the gall to write an op-ed that was published on Georgia’s WALB News 10 website on March 28, where he boasted about steps he made back in February to ensure that his state was attempting to stay ahead of the coronavirus crisis. The governor included advice for Georgia citizens to follow “guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control.” Again, the CDC has made it clear for months now that asymptomatic people can transmit COVID-19 and has continued to tell states that the best course of action is to implement statewide stay-at-home orders — something that Kemp has ignored until Wednesday. Prior to that, Kemp’s actions to contain the virus were piecemeal and inconsistent; he closed bars and schools but not gyms or nail salons or barbershops, nor did he place restrictions on gatherings at funeral homes.
Georgia currently has had more than 5,000 residents infected with COVID-19, 163 of whom have died. Who knows how many of those cases could have been prevented had Kemp listened to the experts and issued a stay-at-home order earlier.