By Benita M. Dodd
It isn’t just the social-media memes about toilet paper that are bright spots amid the finger-pointing and politicizing over the COVID-19 pandemic and the ever-changing responses. There are moments to be hopeful Georgians will rise to the occasion.
Of course, the news was not good Thursday in Georgia.
- The first coronavirus-related death occurred, in Cobb County: a 67-year-old man “with underlying medical conditions” who was hospitalized after falling ill March 9.
- Private schools, public school districts and the University System of Georgia announced closures of at least two weeks.
- The Legislature announced it it is suspending the session indefinitely after today.
- Gov. Brian Kemp announced state government will remain open but thousands of state employees will telecommute. He expanded the task forces he has formed to deal with the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, in December and has since spread across the globe. Kemp also said he’d leave it up to local governments to decide their response to the pandemic.
By Day 14, parents will grow weary of the precautionary school closures. On the bright side, it’s an opportunity for renewed appreciation of teachers and the care they give along with the lessons. It’s also a chance for parents to take a warranted interest in their children’s curriculum as daily lessons go digital at home.
Unfortunately, closed schools may mean children left home alone to their own devices if their parents must continue to travel to work. Many single parents will need a helping hand with children. Many low-income children are fed at school through free- and reduced-lunch programs. Who will provide meals away from school?
Government is working on big solutions, but individual actions can make a difference. And, without a doubt, government can get in the way: Last year, the nonprofit MUST Ministries’ summer food program, which served free, homemade sandwiches to needy children, was halted by state health inspectors, necessitating a “Save Our Sandwiches Bill” this year so the program can continue through the summer (and just four other weeks).
Thus far, the hardest hit by the virus appear to be the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. With the “graying” of Georgia and the many older residents who are aging in place in their own homes, there are some afraid to leave home to pick up groceries or prescriptions. They’re also prideful.
Local community websites like NextDoor are proving ideal in coordinating assistance for neighbors in need. Volunteering to run an errand is a small gesture that can make a huge difference and a new friend.
Health insurers are seizing the initiative, reminding Georgians to be sensible. Call before showing up at hospital ERs and doctor’s offices, they suggest. In a smart move, they are using the pandemic to expand familiarity with telemedicine as a safer, more affordable healthcare option.
Humana, for example, notified members testing for coronavirus is fully covered “for patients who meet CDC guidelines at approved laboratory locations.” It has also waived the cost of telemedicine for all urgent care needs for the next 90 days, “to help reduce the risk of infection and spread of disease.”
Places of worship are staying positive, too: “Keep a sense of humor as we fist bump and elbow tag in place of our warm winter hugs,” was the message in one church newsletter.
With classes conferences, sporting events, conventions and even the state Legislature called off indefinitely, the hope is that the infection will cycle itself out of communities with minimal harm. Until that happens, Georgians will need to stock up on supplies, common sense and patience to get ready for a heap of “getting along,” at home and in the community.
Recent Foundation commentaries on the coronavirus outbreak:
- January 31: Georgia’s Distance is No Protection from Coronavirus Fallout
- March 6, 2020: Innovation, Lessons Learned Guide Georgia’s Response to Coronavirus
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (March 13, 2020). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.