On Thursday, Sept. 2, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, along with First Lady Marty Kemp, visited Dawson County to discuss the pandemic, unemployment, the economy and other important topics with local leaders. Here are the most important takeaways from Kemp’s visit.
COVID-19 pandemic update
Kemp updated local leaders on the state of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccinations in the state of Georgia, stressing that he strongly encourages citizens to get the vaccine, but at this point, is not planning on making the vaccine or masks mandatory in the state.
“I’ve been resistant to doing any mandates, masks, vaccines, and other things, and trying to allow people to be Americans and have individual liberty and freedoms, and I think that’s the way it should be,” Kemp said. “These are all difficult decisions and choices and I’m just encouraging people to get educated about the life-saving vaccine cause it is in my opinion a medical miracle.”
Kemp said while there are still hot spots of Covid-19 and the delta variant in west and north Georgia, hospitals have seen a trend of cases going down from earlier months.
“We’re seeing some bright spots and we’re cautiously optimistic; our hospital cases in the southern part of the state have started dropping and they’ve seen about a 20 percent drop in hospitalizations in the Piedmont System,” Kemp said. “We feel like the trend is moving in the right direction.”
According to Kemp, hospitals that are experiencing shortages of beds for those in need of them aren’t fully due to an influx of covid cases, but rather to a shortage of staff in the hospitals.
“We have beds available, the problem is there’s not enough staff out there to manage the beds,” Kemp said. “The folks working in the hospitals are tired and worn out and a little bit frustrated; but they’re hanging in there and we’re doing all we can to help them and I’m hoping that we’re gonna get over this hump pretty soon and get back to a more stable covid environment.”
Through actions like calling up National Guard members to help staff the hospitals, Kemp said that he hopes to help fill this void in staffing and help return the state closer to stability.
“We are doing a lot to help our hospitals; we have been doing augmented staffing for just about every hospital in the state,” Kemp said. “We just gotta keep fighting through covid, being smart, continuing to educate people on the vaccines and getting people to talk to their doctor and make those health choices for themselves.”
Kemp addressed Georgia’s economy after closing and then reopening the state in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were one of the last states in the country to do a shelter-in-place, and we did it in a very limited way — businesses continued to operate, manufacturing and other things and we were one off the first states in the country to reopen,” Kemp said. “We’ve been open for over a year now and we’re seeing the fruits of that in our economy.”
When Kemp first reopened the state following his shelter-in-place order in 2020, Georgia received national criticism for reopening more quickly than other states. But Kemp said that he made the decision to reopen to help protect the state’s economy, and despite the criticism he received for it, is glad he made the decision when he did.
“We asked them to help us, stay at home and don’t go out, be smart, let us get PPE supplies, let us get medications to treat covid so that we could care for anybody that needed care in Georgia — and I felt like after we’d done that we needed to let people go back to work cause they couldn’t make their car payment, their rent payment, and couldn’t take care of their families,” Kemp said. “So we opened back up, even amidst that criticism, and I’m glad we did.”
He added despite reopening earlier than other states, Georgia’s covid numbers are still better than several other states which have yet to fully reopen. But the biggest benefit from reopening, Kemp said, was helping boost the state’s economy and businesses.
“We’re doing great — we’re the number one state in the country for business, we’ve done 379 projects in the department of economic development this year, we announced already 33,000 new jobs that are coming to Georgia which is a five percent increase over last year, and our unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, the lowest of the 10 most populous states,” Kemp said. “We’re doing great economically, our revenues are coming back, and I’m really excited about where we are in that regard.”
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Mandy Power brought up unemployment to Kemp doing his roundtable discussion, mentioning that Dawson County’s unemployment rate of 2.1 percent in July was lower than almost every other county in the region. She questioned Kemp as to what is being done at the state level to help address unemployment in Georgia.
According to Kemp, Georgia’s statewide unemployment rate was low at 3.1 percent, but that rate became much higher when the pandemic hit. He said in the workforce environment that exists now after the state reopened, it’s important to try to get those who have been displaced from jobs due to the pandemic back into new jobs.
“You have a lot of jobs that have been displaced, but there’s still so many jobs out there right now so we need to implore people to get into the workforce,” Kemp said.
Another important thing for leaders to do, Kemp said, is to educate the next generation about the different options of getting into the workforce, both in the traditional sense of going to college and earning a degree as well as going to technical school or learning a trade.
“The state for decades has been investing in workforce development programs; the technical college system which I know is very strong here is doing a great job at doing that every single day,” Kemp said. “I think we also need to continue to talk to our kids about our great higher education opportunities and the great technical college opportunities.”
“We have to continue to talk about that at the local level so that our kids realize that you can make just as much money being a welder or metal technician or other things as you can in a lot of other fields or in a white-collar office.”
Voting and fraud allegations
Kemp addressed voting in the state and the allegations of voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. The Justice Department is suing the state of Georgia over the state’s Senate Bill 202, which adds a voter ID requirement for mail-in ballots. According to Kemp, the addition of the voter ID number makes it easier and more user-friendly for citizens to cast ballots by mail.
“The truth is that we are making it easier by securing ballot options; we did it in a way that was secure and that’s what people want,” Kemp said.
Kemp said that the elections system was set up with an arbitrary signature audit that worked well with only five percent of Georgians voting absentee, but with last year’s absentee number of 35 to 40 percent the elections offices got overloaded.
“It overloaded the county elections folks so we talked to them and said look we’re putting the voter ID requirement instead of the signature match to make it more effective and more secure,” Kemp said. “We’ve had a voter ID requirement in Georgia since the mid 2000s; we’ve already been doing this and there’s a lot of other states that do that as well.”
Kemp also addressed the issue of the recount in the 2020 election, stating that in future elections votes will be tallied non-stop until they’re finished.
“We’re also gonna make sure that there’s continuous counting so people aren’t starting and stopping during the night,” Kemp said, “and then despite what the other side says we’ve actually given the opportunity during the early voting period for people to have more access to participate in the process.”
In the end, Kemp said that the most important thing is for Georgians to have confidence in their own voting process.
“It’s important that all Georgians have confidence in the election process,” Kemp said.