As some red-state leaders wake up to the dangers of the coronavirus, they reveal either their ignorance or their continued dishonesty in the face of a pandemic

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia said he learned in late March/early April that asymptomatic carriers could transfer the coronavirus. LEAH MILLIS/Reuters
  • Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia issued a statewide shelter-in-place order on Wednesday.
  • In doing so, he said he didn’t know “until the last 24 hours” that asymptomatic carriers could infect others, but reported cases of it date back as far as February.
  • Some red-state leaders haven’t been heeding warnings from the press and other officials, only to belatedly come around to the dangers of the pandemic, revealing that they were either ignorant or dishonest when they refused to do so earlier.
  • It’s the result of a political pandemic divide.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia has finally caught up to most of America.

In a news conference on Wednesday, he issued a statewide shelter-in-place order to stop the spread of coronavirus – well after 33 states plus Washington DC had already done so. He said he issued the order due to projections showing that Georgia’s hospitals could be at capacity by late April if current social distancing measures remained in place, reported Business Insider’s Kayla Epstein.

But he also said that a key part of his decision was that “we didn’t know … until the last 24 hours” that asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus could infect other people, adding that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had just announced that “individuals can be infected and begin to spread coronavirus earlier than previously thought, even if they had no symptoms.”

“From a public health standpoint, this is a revelation and a game-changer,” Kemp said.

But it was already known that asymptomatic people have largely contributed to the spread of the disease. While the CDC’s FAQ on the coronavirus was updated as recently as March 30, it has stated that there have been cases of asymptomatic infection as early as March 16, when I cited it in an article … about asymptomatic infection.

There have also been studies out of China, where the outbreak started. In late February, Chinese researchers confirmed that patients can transmit the coronavirus without showing symptoms. And a study published in Science in mid-March found that people with little or no symptoms were the source of 79% of reported coronavirus cases in the China.

Either Kemp is lying, or he hasn’t been doing the due diligence to find out everything he can about a pandemic that has the potential to wreak havoc on the health of his citizens and the economy of his state.

Some red-state leaders have been ignoring warnings

Kemp isn’t the only red-state leader to display this mixture of ignorance or dishonesty.

On March 26, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi signed an executive order that effectively overrode safety measures implemented by other officials in his state. It reopened some restaurants, classified businesses including gun shops, department stores, and real-estate offices as “essential,” and urged employees to work from home “to the extent feasible,” reported Business Insider’s Mia Jankowitz.

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Republican Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi signed an executive order that seemed to contradict local coronavirus safety measures about what an ‘essential business’ was. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

It also advised citizens to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people but said “this does not apply” to places such as offices, airports, and grocery and department stores.

On Wednesday, the same day Kemp issued his order, Reeves issued a statewide stay-at-home order for Mississippi in response to a plea from a doctor, according to local outlet Mississippi Today.

Red-state senators have also ignored advice from officials. In late March, US Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky,fielded criticism for his conduct after he was tested positive for the coronavirus – Paul himself was asymptomatic. Paul had continued to go to the Senate and its pool and gym after his test, but before his diagnosis. Paul’s refusal to practice social distancing resulted in several other senators going into self-quarantine because they had lunched with him while he might have been positive for the virus, depriving Congress of key votes before the $US2.2 trillion stimulus was passed.

The coronavirus has created a political pandemic divide

The pandemic has presented officials with a tough choice between physical and economic health.

Many red-state leaders have been prioritising the latter. By lagging behind in enforcing stay-at-home orders to keep the economy healthy, they have left it up to their Democratic-run cities to impose their own rules. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida also waited until April to issue a stay-at-home order, ordering it the same day Kemp and Reeves did, after weeks of backlash for not closing all Florida beaches to spring breakers.

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Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida received a lot of criticism in March for leaving beaches open to spring breakers. Bill Clark/Getty Images

But as Kemp and Reeves’ words have shown, these leaders are either being dishonest to learn the facts. And it’s a further reflection of the political pandemic divide that’s intertwined with geography – cosmopolitan US cities, the places first and hardest hit by the pandemic, are often run by the left, whereas rural areas, which have yet to see as severe an impact of the pandemic, are often run by the right.

As of mid-March, slightly more than half of Republicans thought the coronavirus threat was exaggerated, compared to one in five Democrats and two in five independents, according to a poll by NPR,PBS NewsHour, and Marist.

But this doesn’t speak for all Republican leaders. For example, the Republican governors of Ohio and Indiana were early to issue stay-at-home orders. And not all Democratic officials have spotless records. Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has become a media star for his charismatic daily briefings on the US epicentre of the outbreak, waited longer than New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio wanted before ordering the state to shelter in place.

But the wider pattern is clear. Somehow, a health crisis that should be uniting everyone in a common fight has become a political crisis that is further dividing the red and the blue.