September 17, 2021 12:00pm

Georgia leaders say COVID still a grave risk

About 80% say it’s time for tougher talk, if not mandates, from the state, given the latest upswing in COVID-19 cases and rise of the delta variant, according to the latest Georgia Power Poll.

By Nancy Badertscher
Atlanta, GA Correspondent

Only one in five of the state’s community leaders believe Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is on the right track with his hands-off approach to mandates on mask-wearing and vaccinations.

About 80% of those same leaders say it’s time for tougher talk, if not mandates, from the state, given the latest upswing in COVID-19 cases and rise of the delta variant, according to the latest Georgia Power Poll.

The poll, taken by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from Sept. 13-16, posed three questions -- all related to management of the pandemic -- to civic, political, and business leaders in Atlanta, Athens, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah. About 24%, or 144, responded.

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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.

It was taken only days after Kemp and other Republican governors threatened to go to court to stop what Kemp calls a “blatantly unlawful overreach” by President Joe Biden, establishing new federal vaccine requirements.

The new rules from the White House mandate that private-sector businesses with more than 100 workers require that their staffers be vaccinated or tested regularly for COVID-19, a move that could affect as many as 80 million Americans. An additional 17 million people working in health care facilities could have to be vaccinated if their facility receives federal medical funding.

Currently, about 46% of Georgians are fully vaccinated for the virus, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Power Poll asked community leaders what should be done to boost the state’s vaccination rate. The biggest share of respondents – 45% – said they believe the state should impose mandates on the use of face coverings and require vaccinations. Roughly 35% said local and state officials should “speak more strongly, frequently, and persistently in urging people to get inoculated.” Twenty percent said Kemp is striking the right balance at this point.

Keith Mason, principal at KWM Capital Management and a longtime Capitol watcher, said in an email to Power Poll that “government’s power of the purse and permit can be very influential when used for the greater good.”

But Randy Lewis, managing director and co-owner of Fitzpatrick & Lewis Public Relations, does not believe mandates are the answer.

“It should be clear to everyone by now that Covid is not a passing virus. It is here to stay, and we need to adapt,” Lewis wrote in email. “Unfortunately, the government is resorting to mandates and accusatory language, which only hardens the opposition or reluctance to getting vaccinated. When was the last time that government coercion and threats worked out well?”

Most community leaders are taking the pandemic seriously, the poll found. About 74% said the recent rise in delta variant cases indicates that Georgians face a “real and significant” threat. Less than 10% see Georgians at minimal risk and believe employers know best how to protect their employees and customers, as well as themselves, while about 19% expressed optimism that the spike in cases may have peaked.

On the hot topic of how schools should respond, just over half of the community leaders said schools should be more flexible now in offering virtual learning options. About 38% said they believe schools are proceeding as safe as they can to get back on track with in-school learning. About 10% said virtual learning is nearly unworkable now due to logistical and fiscal barriers.

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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