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Georgia governor forced to apologize for releasing fake numbers on infections

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office issued a correction after public criticism of a misleading graph on the state health department website.

By Dan Desai Martin - May 18, 2020
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp was forced to apologize last week after officials released misleading graphs that appeared to show coronavirus cases decreasing, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Wednesday.

The error came as Kemp and other conservative lawmakers rushed to reopen businesses in the state, despite warnings from health experts that acting too quickly could worsen the ongoing pandemic.

As the Journal-Constitution noted, the data reporting error was state officials’ third mistake in three weeks.

According to the outlet, a graph of coronavirus infections in five major counties published on the state health department website listed dates out of order, giving the false impression that the number of coronavirus cases was decreasing when they were not.

Part of the original graph listed the number of cases from May 2 followed by May 7. However those dates were then followed by the number of reported cases from April 26, and then May 3.

Kemp’s office later fixed the data to properly convey the timeline, following public backlash, claiming it had simply made a mistake.

“Our mission failed. We apologize,” Candice Broce, Kemp’s spokesperson, tweeted about the incident. “It is fixed.”

Kemp’s critics were unconvinced.

“It’s just cuckoo,” state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat from Atlanta, told the Journal-Constitution at the time. “I don’t know how anyone can defend this graph as not being misleading. I really don’t.”

Preliminary data from Georgia have not shown a downward trend in cases, but rather show that cases have either remained roughly the same or declined slightly.

Even before the timeline error, coronavirus infection data released by Georgia had been criticized as misleading.

The state reports data based on when symptoms start in a patient, not when the positive results are reported to the state. The unusual method means that data reported by the state “always appears to show that cases are declining, even if they are not,” the Journal-Constitution reported.

Further, the state health department was scrutinized for changing the criteria for color-coding counties on a statewide map showing infection rates.

Counties shaded red have the highest infection rates, but the number of cases necessary to color such a county red increased several weeks ago.

“Based on the (key) they were using a couple weeks ago, a good third to a half of our state would show up as red right now,” Dr. Harry Heiman, a health professor at Georgia State University, told the outlet. “Because they keep moving the goalposts, if you will, it doesn’t look that way.’

In April, Georgia was one of the first states in the country to reopen a range of businesses despite the lingering threat of coronavirus. Barbershops, hair salons, massage parlors, and even bowling alleys were allowed to open on April 24, with dine-in restaurants reopening soon after.

Even Donald Trump, who has advocated for revolts in states governed by Democrats to force them to reopen businesses, criticized Kemp for moving too fast.

“I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia,” Trump said on April 22.

Georgia residents are not happy with how Kemp has handled the coronavirus crisis.

Only 39% of Georgians approved of how Kemp has handled the pandemic, while 61% disapproved, according to a recent Washington Post poll. Compared to 11 other governors, Kemp was the only one with a majority that disapproved of his response.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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