A newly formed committee of influential Atlanta leaders, including The Temple’s Rabbi Peter Berg, is calling for a cautious approach to returning to normal business and social life in the city. The group, GeorgiaALIVE, which was formed less than three weeks ago, has among its aims to promote safe sheltering in place and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Despite what Rabbi Berg acknowledges as the desire to return to a more active life, he said that now is not the time to abandon efforts to keep everyone safe.
“Eventually I want everyone to go back to work and I desperately want to fill the pews at The Temple again – but safety, pikuah nefesh, the saving of lives, is our highest value. Our most significant responsibility is to save life and go out of our way to prevent disease and death.”
The new group, which lists the president of Emory University and the head football coach of University of Georgia among its supporters, aims to raise public awareness.
A number of local celebrities such as NASCAR driver Chase Elliott and the Atlanta-based novelist Emily Griffin have signed on to help promote the initiative. Also among those supporting the organization is the sports talk show host and media personality, Stephen “Steak” Shapiro.
While he admits that the present situation that keeps so many people at home is extremely stressful, he also believes that each person needs to make the right decision to protect themselves.
“GeorgiaALIVE’s mission is to tell people to do the right thing,” Shapiro said. “People need to be incredibly diligent in their health and safety and be incredibly focused on making their own decisions on what they believe is right for their community. And so, you know, separate of everything else, the question is, how does the community galvanize and make really smart health decisions.
The new organization has the support of local businesses such as Aaron’s, Inc., and the Georgia Aquarium. The AJT donated advertising and SalesLoft, a sales promotion company, donated space on eight outdoor advertising signs this week.
GeorgiaALIVE does not support the decision Monday by Gov. Brian Kemp to begin reopening movie theaters, restaurants, and a limited number of other businesses beginning this week. Tech entrepreneur Ed Trimble, founder and CEO of GeorgiaALIVE, was wary of making the issue of keeping Georgian safe a political one.
“I think we all have to be careful not to politicize this” he said. “And I don’t want that to come across as naive sounding because everything is politicized in our country today. However, death from COVID-19 disease should not be political. The economic devastation and hardship on individuals and businesses caused by this pandemic should not be political.”
Still, a number of local leaders including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms indicated they were not consulted prior to the announcement and were caught off guard by the governor’s decision. Rabbi Berg, who closed The Temple in mid March and has been communicating with the congregation online and from a makeshift television studio in his living room, was highly critical of the governor’s decision
“Shelter in place is working – we could have easily made this move to relax restrictions in four to six weeks,” he argued. “I now fear we will see an increase of COVID-19 positive cases in a month’s time and we will begin round two of shelter in place. We are not ready to put our hands into bowling balls or get manicures.”
Shapiro, who has built a locally produced weekend television program in the last few years into a popular guide to dining out in the city, has had to readjust to the economics of a new situation.
Just this week the National Restaurant Association announced that the nation’s restaurant industry has lost two-thirds of its workforce. Restaurants, they said, lost $30 billion in March and are estimated to lose $50 billion in April. By the end of 2020 the industry could lose as much as $240 billion. What they called the nation’s second-largest private employer is expected to make a slow recovery whatever the decisions political and public health official recommend. Shapiro believes some of the most critical decisions are ahead.
“How does the community galvanize and make really smart health decisions? We’ve had a great three, four weeks of trying to support each other. So at least the good news is we’ve been doing the right thing. We need to continue to do that.”