The local leaders of the tourist-dependent beach towns in Georgia are now depending on people to stay away to keep them safe. Gov. Brian Kemp is fighting their efforts, and it’s got many coastal Georgia communities enraged. Over the weekend, Kemp reopened all of the state’s beaches, emulating the kind of lethal cluelessness and disregard for human life we see in the White House press room on a daily basis.
“As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines,” Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions wrote Saturday. “The health of our residents, staff and visitors are being put at risk and we will pursue legal avenues to overturn his reckless mandate.” Sessions shut down Tybee Island beaches on March 20, worried about the town’s aged community and because the town has no hospital and only one, two-lane route to the mainland. That concern was echoed across the state, which is supposedly under a stay-at-home order. Opening the beaches while that order is in place is “stupid and crazy at the same time,” says Allen Booker, a Democratic county commissioner in Glynn County.
Republican office holders are pissed, too. Republican state Rep. Jeff Jones, said that “opening Georgia beaches and lifting rules on short term rentals is counterintuitive to mitigating virus spread and supporting local government control. […] The governor should have left it alone. It was done.” He said that the decision left him “scratching my head. […] Maybe the governor should have sought the opinion of local reps.”
Glynn County Commissioner Peter Murphy, a Republican, said that the governor “undid all the good we did in March” with the decision to open beaches. “I’ve talked to some short-term rental operators, and they said they’re being flooded with calls from New York and other hot spots, and we have no way to force them to quarantine,” another Glynn County commissioner, chairman Michael Browning said. “They’re going to be out and about in the community.” It doesn’t help that Kemp’s decision seems to be more influenced by cronyism and political favors than anything else. Murphy pointed out that Kemp’s reopening order for privately owned Sea Island, days after it was closed, was “interesting” because the owner of the island is billionaire Republican donor Philip Anschutz and because one of Kemp’s biggest political allies, Sen. David Perdue, also has a home there.
A Tybee Island resident, Keith Gay, told local media “In my opinion, they just loaded a gun and pointed it at the beach. […] I hope I’m wrong but, when they put the stay-in-place rule, the weekend following that, we had 9,000 cars on the island. Every restaurant, every bar and beach were completely slammed. This is after there had been a national warning and a state warning about social distancing.”