REM's Michael Stipe Offers New COVID Guidelines to Georgia Governor and University

Former R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe penned an op-ed for The Guardian where he called on the the residents of his home state of Georgia to ramp up their efforts to protect against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the piece published Thursday morning, Stipe called Athens, Georgia a place that shows the "most dangerous aspects of public policy decision-making amid the Covid-19 pandemic." He also pointed blame at Governor Brian Kemp, saying he was "slow to order safety measures and quick to lift them, even limiting individual cities' abilities to create a stronger framework than his recommendations."

The "Losing My Religion" singer said that a spike in cases in Athens-Clarke county were related to the University of Georgia bringing students back for the fall semester. He said the city has seen an increase in coronavirus cases, and the students have impacted people both on and off campus.

A September 16 update from the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government indicated that there were 4,719 confirmed, positive COVID cases in Athens-Clarke County since February 25. Those include 37 deaths from the virus.

To try to slow the spread, Stipe offered four main suggestions for both Georgia officials and the college to enact in order to help cease the virus from spreading.

The first point he made was to limit bars to outdoor seating, which a number of other states have already done. With students packed into bars it increases the risk of the virus traveling between the young adults. "[The bars] are now packed with students, few in masks and none practicing social distancing," he wrote.

The second point he made was cutting down the number of people allowed to gather. "Everyday gatherings need to be further limited in size," he wrote. "Currently, Georgia allows gatherings of up to 50 people, far too many when the pandemic is reeling out of control."

Stipe's final two points were specifically targeting the university. He asked that colleges take a page out of most pro sports' book and play football games without students fans in attendance if the games must happen in the fall. "The US south is so steeped in the culture of this sport that the governor and others have called it 'sacred'–I know–but what is truly sacred is human life and health," he said.

In his final point, he called for increased testing on campus and speeding up the time it takes to get the results. He also said that frats and sororities "seem purposely exempted" from being tested. "[O]ther American universities tested all students before the start of the year, or test thousands per day. In Athens and across Georgia, community members continue to experience a wait of several days for test results, adding dysfunction to isolation and contact tracing efforts," he wrote.

At the end of his piece, Stipe empathized with people who want to gather during difficult times. "Few understand the thrill of being in a crowd more than I do. From REM's modest start at the 40 Watt Club in Athens to the triumph of the main stage at Glastonbury, I have spent most evenings of my adult life in the company of thousands, or tens of thousands, reveling in a shared celebration of life," he wrote.

To close, Stipe called for Kemp and the college to "step up" and implement the suggestions he made, saying that they were doable to to prevent further issues arising.

When asked for comment by Newsweek, Stipe pointed towards a New York Times tracker which reported that UGA has more cases than all colleges in California.

A press secretary for Kemp did not respond to Newsweek's emailed request for comment. A contact for the University of Georgia declined to comment.

Michael Stipe
Singer/songwriter Michael Stipe attends the "Thelma & Louise" Women In Motion screening at Museum of Modern Art on January 28, 2020 in New York City. Stipe recently penned an op-ed calling for further action to stop the spread of COVID in Georgia. Getty/Jim Spellman
REM's Michael Stipe Offers New COVID Guidelines to Georgia Governor and University | Culture