As Georgia prepares to reopen, U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is focusing on making sure small and large businesses get the funds they need to weather the storm the COVID-19 global pandemic has brought to the state's economy.
A week ago, Loeffler was appointed to President Donald Trump's economic recovery task force, which is helping lead the federal government's initiative to open the country back up after weeks of shutdowns aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.
In an interview with the Times Free Press on Wednesday, Loeffler said her main goal is to help build confidence and come up with a plan to safely reopen the economy in Georgia, where hundreds of thousands of people have filed for unemployment.
"Right now, our focus is on the safety of all Georgians as we reopen the country, put jobs back in place and build confidence once again in that economic engine," Loeffler said.
Loeffler recently launched a Georgia Relief and Recovery website with information on the outbreak and the state's response. She and her team have focused on her appointment to Trump's task force.
Trump appointed every Republican senator except Mitt Romney of Utah to the task force. However, Loeffler's Republican primary opponent, Rep. Doug Collins, was notably absent from the White House's list of 32 House members appointed to the panel.
Loeffler said her three decades of experience in the private sector as a job creator and knowing how to manage through cycles similar to the one Georgia and the country are facing now will be useful.
The Senate passed a $484 billion relief package Tuesday that would replenish a small business rescue program, provide hospitals with another $75 billion and implement a nationwide virus testing program to facilitate reopening the economy.
Alex Floyd, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Georgia, criticized Loeffler for "bragging" about the relief package after Senate Democrats pushed for the aid to hospitals and frontline workers. Floyd said Democrats were the ones who fought for the funding while Republicans opposed it initially.
"Instead of fighting for Georgians, Senator Kelly Loeffler would rather pick political fights in Washington and claim credit afterward," Floyd said.
In response, Loeffler said the aid package should not be a partisan issue and now is not a time for either side to claim a victory.
During the coronavirus outbreak, Loeffler said top industries in Georgia such as agriculture and manufacturing are "leading complex businesses in uncharted territory."
"From global markets and trade to health concerns, we need to be able to support them, both small and large employers, during this time," she said.
Loeffler said an increase in testing is key to getting Georgia's economy back on its feet.
"In order for us to restart and for people to get back to work where they feel safe, that starts with getting testing to where we need to be," Loeffler said.
As of noon on Wednesday, more than 94,000 tests had been performed in Georgia. There had been 20,740 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 836 people have died from the virus. Loeffler didn't specify how many tests Georgia would need to perform in order for her to feel comfortable to fully open the state back up.
She did say she and Gov. Brian Kemp have discussed the increase in testing and hope it will happen soon, particularly in rural communities.
"The rate of growth of COVID-19 in sections of the state has slowed meaningfully," she said. "The reason for flattening the curve was not to eliminate COVID but to make sure we were able to respond to the hospitalization, to preserve PPE [personal protective equipment] and to make sure our hospitals weren't overwhelmed."
Loeffler said overall hospital numbers are trending down. Kemp touted similar optimistic news Monday at his news conference announcing his plan to reopen the state.
Some local officials in Northwest Georgia thought Kemp's call to reopen was premature, and some businesses have said they will still wait to open. Loeffler said she understands people's hesitation and urged people to continue practicing social distancing and for the most vulnerable people to stay home.
"I've talked to people on both sides of this," she said. "I know people who are going to give it another week before opening up, and I talked to a friend who owns a hair salon and has four children. She provides the income for her family and needs to get back to work."
Loeffler visited Murray County earlier this week to survey the tornado damage and talk to local residents about how they are holding up. She said it was inspiring to see so many people in the community help out at a time when things feel hopeless.
"I saw the best of what Georgia can be," she said. "I hope people don't lose sight of that when we come out of this crisis."
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.