Kemp drops lawsuit against Atlanta mask, public gathering restrictions

Gov. Brian Kemp is dropping a lawsuit against Atlanta officials and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over the city’s mask mandate following weeks of negotiations toward a settlement amid the COVID-19 pandemic, his office announced Thursday.

But the governor signaled he plans to take new action on business and masking rules following months of loosening restrictions, claiming Atlanta’s mayor decided “she will not agree to a settlement that safeguards the rights of private property owners in Georgia.”

“Given this stalemate in negotiations, we will address this very issue in the next executive order,” Kemp said in a statement. “We will continue to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”

State officials said negotiations with Bottoms stalled as the mayor pushed for enforcing the mask mandate on Atlanta businesses and other private property. Both sides had agreed to let the city keep its mask mandate so long as it was not enforced in residences and penalties were capped for non-compliance.

The current COVID-19 order, which expires Saturday, includes distancing and sanitizing requirements for social gathering spots like bars and restaurants as well as a prohibition on local governments from enforcing their own mask mandates.

Kemp has made clear he will not order any statewide masking requirements, opting instead to encourage voluntary widespread mask use. His office has called local mandates unenforceable.

The lawsuit, filed last month by Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, sought to have a Fulton County Superior Court judge declare unlawful a citywide masking requirement imposed by Bottoms earlier in July.

It marked an intense ratcheting up of the dispute between Kemp, who has insisted on keeping mask-wearing voluntary, and several Georgia mayors including Bottoms, who want local control over mandatory measures to help curb the virus’ spread.

The governor’s office was quick to point out the lawsuit mostly took aim at steps Bottoms took in July to resume limits on public gatherings to 10 persons in Atlanta and to reimpose a shelter-at-home order for city residents.

Bottoms stressed she intended for those resumed restrictions, which were in place during April under a statewide order by Kemp, to be voluntary for Atlanta.

Additionally, the lawsuit sought to bar Bottoms from “issuing press releases, or making statements to the press, that she has the authority to impose more or less restrictive measures than are ordered” by the governor.

Bottoms, who tested positive for COVID-19 in July, has cast the governor’s priorities as misplaced in light of the impacts of the virus, which has sickened hundreds of thousands of people in Georgia and killed thousands more.

Sports doctor urges caution as football resumes in Georgia amid COVID-19

As sports teams weigh returning to play in Georgia, a sports cardiology expert at Emory University in Atlanta warned Thursday student athletes and schools need to be mindful about the risk of serious heart injury involved in COVID-19 infections.

The resumption of public school and college classes in Georgia this month has prompted growing concern among public health officials and advocates over a potential worsening spread of coronavirus, while many state and local leaders have pressed for classes to be held with safety measures in place.

Top of mind for many health experts and state officials is how to allow football and other sports competitions in the fall, both at the high school and college levels. Schools are grappling with locker-room restrictions and testing requirements to allow play in more controlled settings.

Dr. Jonathan Kim, Emory’s chief of sports cardiology and a member of the American College of Cardiology, noted early studies have shown around 20% of patients hospitalized for coronavirus have developed cardiac injuries, marking a much higher rate than the 1% of heart complications seen in typical hospital patients.

As a result, athletes and others with high-effort exercise regimens could be more susceptible during the pandemic to developing myocarditis, which causes inflammation in the heart muscle and can lead to serious injury or death, Kim said in a briefing Thursday. More data is needed to determine how often athletes have developed myocarditis specifically from COVID-19, Kim stressed.

“What we know is if somebody has active myocarditis and they’re actively training [in] high-exertion physical activities, that can actually make the inflammation worse,” Kim said.

“And when you have that inflammatory process within the heart muscle, if you are engaging in high-end physical activity, that could potentially precipitate dangerous heart rhythms [that] could lead to a cardiac arrest or a catastrophic outcome.”

Student athletes and their families need to individually weigh whether picking up sports again in the fall is safe, while schools and other sports organizations should consider implementing heart-testing procedures like cardiograms, Kim said.

“I do think that lower-level sporting organizations – and really just looking at universities – [they] need to have the cardiac infrastructure in place,” Kim said.

He stopped short, however, of recommending that sports be canceled. That decision should be made by schools and sports leagues factoring in recommendations from public health experts, Kim said.

“I think that if an athlete were to choose not to participate for whatever the reason may be … I would respect that decision,” Kim said. “And I think athletes that choose to pursue must have the trust that their public health concerns are clearly being monitored and addressed.”

Many leagues including those joined by the University of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology are pressing forward with plans to resume fall play, while others have hit pause on this year’s football season.

The Georgia High School Association is poised for a Sept. 4 start to the high-school football season with the chance that games could be postponed in the coming weeks, depending on virus infection rates. Georgia’s high school football season has already been pushed back by two weeks.

Gov. Brian Kemp urged college football leagues on Wednesday to resume games this fall, calling the sport “a sacred tradition” that should be played “if we can ensure the safety of players, coaches and staff.”

“Based on recent discussions with university leaders and sports officials, I am confident that they are putting the health and well-being of our athletes first,” Kemp said. “I commend the football community for working around the clock to incorporate public health guidance and appropriate protocols as they plan for the future.”

The governor’s stance was echoed by Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who stressed the importance for student athletes to play college football from both an economic standpoint and as the fulfillment of their long-time personal goals.

“Their goal of a lifetime is to play college football,” Ralston said in a radio interview Tuesday. “And if they’re not playing, are they going to be any safer?”

“We have to make the health of the student athletes paramount, but there is an economic piece,” Ralston added. “It would be hard to imagine six or seven Saturdays in Athens this fall with no college football.”

COVID-19 vaccine trials ramp up in Atlanta

Coronavirus has sickened hundreds of thousands people and killed thousands more in Georgia. (Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

More people are being administered test doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine in Atlanta as part of clinical trials that have entered a new expanded phase, Emory University announced Wednesday.

The university, which is leading trials for a candidate vaccine that have shown promising results so far, began giving its first doses this week to a new wave of test subjects poised to reach into the hundreds in the coming weeks.

They will be among roughly 30,000 trial volunteers expected to enroll in vaccine trials at more than 80 sites across the country, the university said in a news release.

“As the death toll from this pandemic continues to rise, it becomes even more urgent that we find a safe and effective vaccine to prevent COVID-19,” said Dr. Evan Anderson, an associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine who is a principal investigator for the trial.

“Having this trial take place at Emory gives Atlanta-area residents the opportunity to participate in a study that, if successful, has the potential to help stem the tide of this disease.”

Last month, the university announced early results from clinical trials dating back to March showed the candidate vaccine appears to be producing high levels of virus-blocking antibodies and interacting well with immune systems in 45 adult test subjects who volunteered for the project.

Trial investigators are now testing to see if the candidate vaccine can prevent COVID-19 infections or stave off severe symptoms including death. Test subjects will also be monitored for the next two years to determine whether they catch the virus or develop negative reactions to the candidate vaccine.

Emory researchers are also seeking volunteers for the trials, especially those from populations hit hardest by the coronavirus including Black and Latino communities and elderly persons.

Interested volunteers can apply by filling out forms or emailing the following:

Unlike traditional vaccines that introduce disease-causing organisms, the vaccine being tested at Emory involves using genetic sequencing to create proteins that mimic the novel strain of coronavirus and trigger a response from the patient’s immune system to erect safeguards.

These so-called mRNA vaccines can be cheaper and faster to produce but are less tried-and-true than traditional vaccines, according to the nonprofit PHG Foundation at the University of Cambridge.

The potential coronavirus vaccine, called mRNA-1273, was developed in roughly two months by the Massachusetts-based company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which kicked off clinical trials in Seattle in March.

Tax credit for companies making COVID-19 protective supplies adopted in Georgia

Georgia businesses that make personal protective equipment like gloves, masks, gowns and hand sanitizer amid the COVID-19 pandemic are getting a new tax credit.

The state Department of Community Affairs’ Board of Directors approved the new credit Wednesday along with changes to an existing state tax-credit program benefitting job creators that will let companies use their pre-coronavirus employment numbers to qualify for the credit.

Both tax-credit revisions were included in legislation the General Assembly passed and Gov. Brian Kemp signed earlier this summer and come as businesses across the state struggle to recover from the economic slowdown spurred by coronavirus.

With the new credit, businesses manufacturing items in Georgia used to shield people from contracting the virus would be eligible for an additional $1,250 tax credit per job. Those supplies include gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, face shields, helmets, goggles and respirators.

The credit looks to be a boon for more than 250 businesses in Georgia that flipped the switch on their operations to churn out protective gear, including clothing manufacturers and breweries. It would apply to jobs created in those qualified companies through 2024.

Companies that qualify for the state’s Quality Job Tax Credit would also be able to count the number of employees they had in 2019 toward claiming their credit for the 2020 and 2021 tax years.

Community Affairs Deputy Commissioner Rusty Haygood said businesses that have more favorable employment numbers in 2020 or 2021 will also be able to apply those numbers to the credit if they choose.

“It does give flexibility for employers through these challenging times,” Haygood said at a board meeting Wednesday.

The change aims to help businesses in economically struggling areas located in largely rural parts of the state and for certain industries like manufacturing, warehousing, telecommunications and research that have lost employees amid the pandemic.

Kemp, along with Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, praised the two tax-credit measures shortly after their passage in late June as critical to bolstering businesses that have been hit hard by virus-prompted closures and diminished revenues.

“This legislative package will shore up those efforts, ensuring that those in the Georgia businesses who have adapted to meet these challenges head on know that we have their back,” Kemp said.

QAnon backer Greene wins runoff in Northwest Georgia Congressional GOP primary

Marjorie Taylor Greene (right) attends a protest over impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump in Sandy Springs on Oct. 9, 2019. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Controversial businesswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene won the Republican primary runoff election for Georgia’s 14th Congressional District Tuesday night, all but guaranteeing her a seat in Congress representing the reliably Republican northwestern part of the state.

Greene, who owns a construction company, fended off criticism of her residence outside the district and her apparent support for the QAnon conspiracy theory in uncovered videos to claim victory over her Republican opponent, neurosurgeon and toy store owner John Cowan.

She goes on to face the lone Democratic candidate Kevin Van Ausdal, an implementation specialist, in the Nov. 3 general election.

Barring a loss in the November election, Greene is poised to replace five-term U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who announced late last year he would not seek re-election to a sixth term in the 14th District, which stretches from Paulding and Haralson counties north through Rome, Calhoun and Dalton to the Tennessee line.

Originally signaling she would seek to challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Roswell, for the metro Atlanta 6th Congressional District, Greene amassed a roughly $1.5 million campaign warchest in the 14th District race as she leaned heavily on pro-gun, anti-abortion and pro-President Donald Trump stances.

“The GOP establishment, the media and the radical left spent months and millions of dollars attacking me,” Greene said Tuesday night. “Tonight, the people of Georgia stood up and said that we will not be intimidated or believe those lies.”

Greene jolted into the national spotlight following her strong finish in the June 9 primary during which she won 40% of votes, not enough to avoid a runoff but nearly double the amount of the second-place finisher, Cowan.

Shortly after, Greene faced backlash over past online videos reported in the Washington Post and Politico in which she appeared to promote the anti-government conspiracy theory QAnon and dismiss the racial-justice underpinnings of the Black Lives Matter protest movement.

A slew of high-profile Republican leaders including Georgia’s Congressional delegation and U.S. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., quickly soured on Greene following the media reports on her apparent embrace of the QAnon theory and other inflammatory comments.

In a debate last month ahead of Tuesday’s runoff, Greene did not answer a yes-or-no question on whether she believes in the QAnon theory, opting instead to condemn former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She also voiced belief in the “deep state” theory concerning alleged conspiratorial acts by U.S. intelligence officials that have been discussed by many conservative media commentators.

“I, like many Americans, am disgusted with the deep state who’ve launched an effort to get rid of President Trump,” Greene said during the July 19 debate hosted by the Atlanta Press Club.

Greene staked her campaign on hardline conservative positions on immigration, gun-ownership rights, abortion opposition and denouncing Chinese trade practices. But most especially, she touted her staunch backing of the president.

“I’m 100% pro-life, 100% pro-gun, and I’m the strongest supporter of President Trump and always have been,” Greene said in a May debate.