- After Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that he would reopen businesses like gyms, bowling alleys, and hair salons on Friday, many business owners said they will remain closed anyway.
- Kemp’s decision is the broadest rollback of state stay-at-home orders so far, and he also plans to reopen restaurants and movie theaters on Monday.
- Mayors of some of Georgia’s largest cities have also urged people to continue staying at home, but Kemp’s order renders them powerless to impose local restrictions.
Businesses Divided As Georgia Reopens
Georgia will begin plans to restart its economy on Friday by allowing various types of businesses to reopen, but those plans haven’t set in well for some business owners.
Specifically, the state will begin allowing gyms, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbers, hair and nail salons, and massage therapy businesses to reopen their doors once more. By Monday, a second wave of reopenings will include dine-in restaurants and movie theaters.
While Governor Brian Kemp said those businesses will need to follow social-distancing and sanitation guidelines, this is still the broadest rollback of stay-at-home orders from a state so far.
Because that order was so broad, many small business owners said they’d been caught off-guard and that they weren’t expecting to reopen the state so soon. Some even said they would need more than just a few days to ramp back up.
Other business owners were critical of this move in general, some saying they’d refuse to reopen before health experts said it was safe to do so.
“It’s putting economics before lives,” Diane Fall, owner of Maxim Barbers in suburban Atlanta, told The Wall Street Journal. “[Kemp’s] putting it out there like he’s doing us a favor, but I’d rather be alive than run my business right now.”
In fact, many business owners in Fall’s line of work have argued that people can’t properly socially distance in places like barbershops and nail salons.
Alan Marsh, a pet shop owner, also told the WSJ that even though his revenue is down by a third and he’s lost employees, he will continue to fulfill online and phone orders only. Marsh then went a step further, saying that if he discovered one of his employees had been out to a restaurant or shop, he would take them off the schedule.
That’s not to say Kemp’s order has been met with complete criticism. Many business owners have applauded the move, which will potentially allow them to retain and pay employees. Others have been more cautious about reopening, saying they like the idea, but if businesses mishandle the reopenings, they may have to shut back down.
At Odds with Kemp, Mayors Urge People to Stay Home
Notably, it’s not just business owners who were caught off guard by this decision. The mayors of Savannah, Augusta, and Atlanta have all said that they hadn’t heard about Kemp’s plan until he publicly announced it on Monday.
Like many businesses, those mayors have criticized Kemp’s decision.
“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way,” Atlanta mayor Keisha Bottoms told CNN, “and again, I can’t stress enough, I work very well with our governor and I look forward to having a better understanding of his reasoning is, but as I look at the data, and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson called the move “reckless, premature and dangerous.”
Despite those criticisms, mayors in Georgia actually now have less power than businesses do when it comes to the decision over whether to reopen or not. That’s because Kemp’s order will be implemented statewide, meaning that local governments can’t overturn or restrict it.
Still, that hasn’t stopped local leaders from continuing to urge people to stay home. In addition to Bottoms and Johnson, the mayors of Augusta and Albany have encouraged people to not go out to stores just yet.
Albany’s mayor, Bo Dorough, said he plans to ask Kemp to make an exception for the city, which has become one of the worst coronavirus hotspots in the country.
Kemp Defends His Decision and Other States Move To Reopen
Kemp has defended his decision, with a spokesman for him saying, “We can’t have shelter-in-place forever and we can’t have how businesses operated last fall, or even a month ago. We have to find a way to a happy medium.”
Even though Georgia is opening the fastest, it’s certainly not the only state that has started to reopen—especially in the South.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that his state’s stay-at-home order will be lifted at the end of the month and that most businesses will reopen by May 1st.
Ohio is also planning to roll out a gradual reopening on May 1st.
In South Carolina, as of Tuesday, places like beaches and department stores have already reopened at reduced capacity. Like Georgia, there has been some criticism there for opening nonessential businesses so early; however, unlike Georgia, local municipalities can still restrict some reopenings such as beaches.
“I support what South Carolina Governor @henrymcmaster announced yesterday — a small reopening of our state’s economy with a focus on social distancing,” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Twitter Tuesday. “I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon.”
Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee all have yet to meet White House guidelines that recommend states should begin a phased reopening only after 14 days of a sustained decrease in coronavirus cases.
See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (NBC News) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Lawmakers Call For Action as Oil Companies Post Record Profits Amid Rising Gas Prices
A recent analysis from the Center for American Progress found that the top five oil companies earned over 300% more in profits during the first quarter of 2022 than the same period last year.
As Consumer Prices Climb, Big Oil Profits
American oil companies are facing increased scrutiny over profiteering practices as gas prices continue to surpass record highs driven by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
Last week, costs surged to above $4 per gallon in all 50 states for the first time ever, according to the auto club AAA. Prices are currently averaging over $4.59 per gallon nationwide, which is 50% higher than they were this time last year.
In addition to consumers hurting at the pump, there are also rising concerns for industries that rely on fuel and oil like trucking, freight, airlines, and plastic manufacturers.
To account for high prices, some in sectors have responded by ramping up prices further down the supply chain to account for costs, putting even more of a burden on consumers to pay for everyday items.
But as Americans struggle with sky-high gas prices at a time of record inflation, recently released earnings reports show that many of the world’s largest oil companies thrived in the first quarter of 2022.
ExxonMobil more than doubled its earnings from the same period last year, reporting a net profit of $5.5 billion. Meanwhile, Chevron logged its best quarterly earnings in almost a decade, and Shell had its highest earnings ever.
According to a new analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, the top five oil companies — including the three mentioned above — earned over 300% more in profits this quarter than during the same time last year.
“In fact, these five companies’ first-quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28 percent of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period,” the report noted.
Per Insider, for at least four of those companies, that growth marks a tremendous increase in profits from even before the pandemic.
Lawmakers Ramp-Up Efforts to Reduce Prices
To address these startling disparities, federal lawmakers have moved in recent weeks to increase pressure on oil companies and take steps to lower prices.
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a bill proposed by Rep. Katie Porter (D-Ca.) that aims to reduce gas prices. The legislation, called The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, would give the president the authority to issue an Energy Emergency Declaration that would be effective for up to 30 days with the possibility of being renewed.
In that emergency period, it would be illegal for anyone to increase gas or home energy fuel prices to a level that is exploitative or “unconscionably excessive.”
The proposal would also give the Federal Trade Commission the power to investigate and manage instances of price gouging from larger companies and give state authorities the ability to enforce price-gouging violations in civil courts.
The bill, which has already seen widespread opposition from Republicans and extensive lobbying from pro-oil interest groups, faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 split Senate.
During debate on the act Thursday, Rep. Porter delivered an impassioned speech accusing oil companies of driving their record profits by using their market power to unfairly increase prices.
“The oil and gas industry currently has more than 9,000 permits to drill for oil on federal land, but they are deliberately keeping production low to please their investors and increase their short-term profits,” she said. “Even when the price of crude oil falls, oil and gas companies have refused to pass those savings on to consumers.”
“Let me be clear: price gouging is anti-capitalist,” Porter continued. “It exploits a lack of competition, which is a hallmark of capitalism. It is an effort to juice corporate profits at the expense of customers. Energy markets are reeling because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Big oil companies, however, are using this temporary chaos to cover up their abuse.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (NPR)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.