Republican Gov. Brian Kemp admits he just found out that asymptomatic people can spread coronavirus

The Georgian learned of this in the last "24 hours." But Dr. Fauci warned of asymptomatic transmission in January

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published April 2, 2020 6:28PM (EDT)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp just announced a shelter-in-place order after admitting that he did not know that asymptomatic people could spread the coronavirus, even though the country's top health officials warning about asymptomatic transmission since January.

Kemp, a Republican, said Georgia would follow the other 30 states that have already issued similar "stay at home" orders on Wednesday, because "modeling and data have dramatically changed for Georgia" over the previous two days.

Kemp said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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."

"Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad," he added. "We didn't know that until the last 24 hours."

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the head of Georgia's Department of Public Health, said that fact led the state to revise its models.

"It's a combination of recognizing there's a large number of people out there who are infected, who are asymptomatic, who never would have been recognized under our old models," she said, "but also seeing the community transmission that we're seeing."

CDC Director Robert Redfield told WABE radio in Atlanta earlier this week that the organization determined that "as many as 25%" of those infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic but can spread the virus to others. But Redfield made clear that the agency "confirmed" what many scientists had been saying for months.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this in January.

"There's no doubt . . . that asymptomatic transmission is occurring," he warned, referring to a January study that found that people spread the virus without knowing they had it. "This study lays the question to rest."

Redfield himself told CNN on Feb. 13 that asymptomatic transmission was possible.

Subsequent studies overseas similarly found that as many as 30% of those infected with the virus did not show symptoms.

Kemp rejected calls to issue a "stay at home" order throughout those months, insisting that it would cripple the state's economy even as nearby states and Georgia's cities instituted lockdowns. Kemp announced Wednesday that he would order schools closed for the rest of the academic year and close non-essential businesses, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Other Republican governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis and Texas' Greg Abbott also dropped their reservations and issued "stay at home" orders this week. But Kemp's admission that he changed his mind after learning a fact that was widely known for months stunned observers.

"This is inexcusable," CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta tweeted. "Just inexcusable. My kids who go to school in Georgia knew that a month ago."

Harvard epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding claimed there was no way Kemp did not know this before this week, noting that the CDC is based in Atlanta.

"That is a lie. We've know about asymptomatic transmission for well over a month or more," he added. "And CDC and Emory [School of Public Health] advisors are in his back yard. Don't try to deny science was there all along."

Some Democrats pointed to the allegations of voter suppression that led to skepticism about Kemp's 2018 defeat of former state Democratic House Leader Stacey Abrams.

"If they had better election laws Stacey Abrams would be governor of Georgia," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. "Brian Kemp's negligence could cost Americans thousands of lives."

"Thousands of people will die because [Kemp] refused to learn basic facts about the coronavirus," former Obama aide Tommy Vietor added. "Leaders like this are what you get with systematic voter suppression."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Anthony Fauci Brian Kemp Cdc Coronavirus Covid-19 Georgia Politics Stacey Abrams