Most Georgia community leaders say the pandemic is no longer holding them back from travel.
In a new survey, 95% of community leaders said they are venturing out more now, though some more cautiously than others. Less than 5% said they are still staying put due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
More than a hundred civic, political, and business leaders in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah participate each month in Power Poll, a nationwide survey on important issues in the news.
The latest Georgia survey, taken by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from July 19-23, focuses on travel and tourism since the easing of pandemic restrictions, as well as the recent spike in cases and the state’s low vaccination rate. It was sent via email to 677 community leaders across the state, 135 or nearly 20% of whom responded.
The survey does not have the precision of a scientific poll and is meant only to provide insight into the thinking of influential leaders across the state.
The poll launched the same day state health officials announced that a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations around the world was starting to reach Georgia. They reported a one-week, 30% increase in Georgia’s hospitalizations, a majority involving people not fully vaccinated and the highly contagious Delta variant.
In the four-question survey, leaders were asked about their travel plans this year. About 37% said that, after lying low for a year, they plan to make up for lost travel time, hitting the road with gusto. About 58% said they would be out more this year but would take precautions to protect themselves against the lingering threat of COVID-19.
Respondents indicated the resumption of travel could be good for Georgia’s economy, which depends heavily on tourism. Seventy-four percent said they believe non-Georgians see the state as “open again” and “a safe place to visit.” About 26% said COVID-19′s continued presence in Georgia “still makes travel here risky.”
The poll reaffirmed community leaders’ concern – even frustration—with Georgia’s full vaccination rate, one of the nation’s lowest at 38%.
“With ample vaccine availability across the state, Georgia citizens, as well as any visitors, have it well within their power to avoid significant Covid complication risk by simply getting vaccinated,” said survey participant and state Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, in an email to Power Poll.
A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said: “Pure and simple, being vaccinated can save your life and the lives of many others ... This is not fake news!”
And Kevin Green, president and CEO of Atlanta’s Midtown Alliance, said: “We are blessed with a remarkably effective and available vaccine to curb the further spread and keep variants from taking over. I am dumbfounded at how anyone can purposefully spread disinformation or work to try and make this a partisan wedge issue.”
About 7 in 10 of the surveyed community leaders said the state’s low vaccination rate is posing a “real and significant risk to public health, education, and our economy.”
More than 42% of respondents said they worry about the recent uptick in cases, the new variant, and the potential for another surge. A slightly smaller percentage – about 38% -- urged a wait-and-see attitude before any move to reimpose restrictions, and about 20% said the “worst is behind us” and there is little or no need for another clamp-down.
Randy Lewis, managing director and co-owner of Fitzpatrick & Lewis Public Relations in Atlanta, wrote in an email to Power Poll that he and his wife spent almost four weeks last year – pre-vaccine – driving to Montana and Mexico.
“We took precautions, but we lived our lives, as I recommend to everyone,” Lewis said. “Cowering is not a lifestyle to be admired. Everything about this virus has been politicized. And we should be at war with the people who have done this to us.”