Atlanta — New York's Democratic governor flew to Georgia on Monday, pledging to help the city of Savannah fight COVID-19, in a barely concealed rebuke to Georgia's Republican leadership as virus cases continued to rise in the southern state.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo declined to directly criticize Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, but warmly praised Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, a native New Yorker who has been a scorching critic of Kemp in recent days.
Cuomo said New York has to be interested in what's happening in other parts of the country because infected people from other states are likely to spread virus cases in New York, and has previously promised to aid Atlanta and Houston. He portrayed his mission as an effort to help overcome political divisions on how to fight COVID-19.
"This virus, it preys upon the weak and the vulnerable," Cuomo said. "It's the weak body that has trouble resolving the virus. The American body is in many ways, weak, right now. The body politic is weakened."
Cuomo also backed mask use, saying that "somehow in this crazy partisan world we've even politicized a virus."
"I wear the mask because I respect you," he said. "You wear the mask because you respect me."
Johnson was the pacesetter in a revolt by local Georgia officials against Kemp's refusal to allow local governments to order people to wear masks. Johnson signed an order requiring masks in the coastal city on July 1. More than 15 other cities and counties would eventually follow suit, with Kemp eventually suing Atlanta's mayor and city council, asking a judge to order local officials to stop taking actions at variance with his own executive orders on the coronavirus.
Lawyers for Georgia's attorney general are scheduled to argue that case in court Tuesday.
Cuomo delivered masks, test kits, gowns, face shields and hand sanitizer. He said he would help Savannah set up two new public testing sites aimed at lower income people and said he would share contact tracing expertise.
"Today's discussion was about testing. Today's discussion was about tracing, and it was about training," Johnson said. "And more importantly it's about encouragement to a weary city that has been going through this since the beginning of March."
Contact tracing in Georgia is run by the state Department of Public Health, which didn't attend Monday's meetings, said Nick Zoller, a spokesman for Johnson. He said the city will not be setting up a separate contact tracing program.
Kemp spokesperson Candace Broce declined to comment on Cuomo's visit. Kemp separately announced a previously promised initiative with Mako Medical, a North Carolina lab company, to increase Georgia's government testing capacity by 10,000 per day, providing results within 48 hours. Kemp spokesperson Cody Hall said Georgia will pay $100 to $110 per test and chose Mako because it offered the best combination of price, turnaround time and capacity.
The number of people hospitalized because of the respiratory illness in Georgia continues to rise, reaching nearly 3,200 on Monday, a level that has tripled in the past month. The total number of cases in Georgia climbed past 145,000 on Monday, while the number of deaths rose to 3,176.