There's Disagreement Over Whether States Are Ready To Reopen

Apr 23, 2020
Originally published on April 23, 2020 9:24 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Some states say they're going to gradually reopen over the next few days. Georgia is one of the first. Governor Brian Kemp says some businesses can go back to work tomorrow. President Trump said yesterday, he doesn't think Georgia is ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities.

KING: The White House has formally recommended that before states start to reopen, they have a downward trend of cases over 14 days. NPR's Allison Aubrey has been looking into what's going on in Georgia.

Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So based on the White House guidelines for reopening, is Georgia ready?

AUBREY: Not yet. I mean, according to the infectious disease experts I've spoken to in Georgia, they do agree that the data show the state's moving in the right direction. But Georgia has not met the criteria outlined in the administration's guidance. I mean, both Anthony Fauci and President Trump weighed in last night. You just heard the president say he strongly disagrees with Governor Brian Kemp's decision to open businesses so soon. Now, Kemp has cited favorable data pointing to a decline in ER visits, a flattening of cases. But one trigger laid out in this phased approach to reopening is a sustained 14-day decline in new cases, and Georgia is not there yet.

KING: One of the problems we've been seeing across the country is states saying they just don't have enough tests. Does Georgia have enough?

AUBREY: Overall, there's not enough testing in Georgia and in many other places, too. There's been such a debate about this, right? The Trump administration says there's plenty of capacity. Experts and state health officials say, no, there are shortages.

But one solid gauge of whether a state is doing enough testing is to look at the positive rate in tests. The more tests that come back positive, the less likely a state is testing enough. The World Health Organization says you want to see about a 10% positive rate or lower. As a nation, we're at about a 20% positive rate. In Georgia, the positive rate is 23%; other states even a little higher. Massachusetts and New York, about 25% to 30% in recent days.

Now, the administration has acknowledged that this 10% threshold is a good metric. And last night, both Vice President Pence and the surgeon general, Jerome Adams, talked about the importance of expanding testing in nursing homes and in minority communities.

KING: Well, in minority communities because we know that the virus seems to be affecting black Americans more severely - it's worth noting that Georgia's population is about 32% black. Is the state taking this seriously?

AUBREY: You know, I spoke to Lorraine Cochran-Johnson. She's a commissioner in DeKalb County; that's the metro Atlanta area. She is all too aware of these disparities around the country. African Americans have disproportionately ended up in the hospital with serious illness from the virus.

LORRAINE COCHRAN-JOHNSON: In DeKalb County, Ga., the top five ZIP codes for COVID-19 known cases are amongst our areas with the highest concentration of African Americans...

AUBREY: Now around the country...

COCHRAN-JOHNSON: So when you look at the numbers, they're very revealing.

AUBREY: Now around the country, about 1 in 3 cases is among African Americans, and there are several reasons for this. One is that African Americans make up a large share of the workforce for service sector jobs - jobs you can't easily do from home, and employees in these jobs are at higher risk of exposure. And Cochran-Johnson says it's premature to open businesses in Georgia.

COCHRAN-JOHNSON: I don't want people forced with a situation where, once these businesses open, they are forced back into the workforce and not allowed to continue sheltering in place because, in all honesty, we still have a long way to go.

KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey. Allison, thanks for your reporting.

AUBREY: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.