Michael Stipe: Brian Kemp and UGA Botched COVID Response

Credit: Mark Trammell.

R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe may no longer live in Athens full-time, but he keeps close tabs on his hometown, and like many of us who still reside here, he doesn’t like what he sees.

Stipe wrote a column for the British newspaper The Guardian, published today, criticizing Gov. Brian Kemp and the University of Georgia for using “magical thinking” instead of science to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, a Donald Trump acolyte, was slow to order safety measures and quick to lift them, even limiting individual cities’ abilities to create a stronger framework than his recommendations. Despite weak steps from state leadership, Athens was full of smart and careful residents, and the community remained much lower in case and death metrics than other population centers in Georgia throughout the spring and summer.

Hold tight. The return of tens of thousands of young university students to the University of Georgia here has upended this sense of relative safety. Athens-Clarke county – the smallest county in a very large state – now has the highest two-week total of new cases for any of Georgia’s 159 counties, and one of the highest per capita in the nation, and it has seen the number of deaths due to Covid-19 more than double in just the past six weeks. Other university communities in the state are facing the same dramatic uptick.

Stipe called on Georgia to limit bars to outdoor seating, reduce the size of legally allowed gatherings, play college football without fans in the stands and increase testing capacity.

On Wednesday, however, Kemp renewed his emergency order on COVID-19. It maintains the maximum gathering size at 50 and allows indoor bars to remain open. Football season, of course, is plowing ahead, with up to 23,000 ticket-holders inside Sanford Stadium.