ATLANTA—Jamie Booth, owner of Melange Hair Salon in Grant Park, has not cut someone’s hair in over a month. But even though Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered hair salons open Friday, she’ll be keeping her business closed, she said.
“I am mortified and appalled he would open us up in the middle of our coronavirus peak,” the veteran hairstylist told The Daily Beast.
Kemp announced Monday that gyms, bowling alleys, hair and nail salons across Georgia would be allowed to reopen so long as they meet some safety thresholds like instituting social distancing policies. Shortly after the announcement, the state Department of Health announced more than 19,000 residents had tested positive for the virus, though the number of new infections has slowed in recent days.
Thirty-eight minutes after the governor's press conference began, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced an Advisory Council for the reopening of the city “when that time is OK,” implying she might not be on board with the timeline, to say the least. “A plan of action to reopen Atlanta’s economy must be presented to Mayor Bottoms no later than May 15, 2020,” the statement said, despite Kemp’s warning that local authorities cannot take action more or less restrictive than his own.
In an interview with ABC News Monday evening, Bottoms urged residents to stay home, mentioning she was having the city’s attorneys look at options even though the governor’s order would likely supersede action she took.
Meanwhile, business owners and residents across Atlanta alike quickly said they would not be returning to life as usual any time soon, despite the admonition from on high.
“I feel like the mayor’s not going to let up on what’s going on and will take that extra step. I don’t think we’re ready to open up,” said Jacob Franklin, manager at Bon Ton, a restaurant in the heart of Atlanta’s Midtown district.
The governor cited the devastating impact of closed businesses on the state’s economy as a reason to get things moving again. “I don’t give a damn about politics now,” said Kemp, who suggested he was prioritizing Georgians “going broke worried about whether they can feed their children and make the mortgage payment.” And it’s true that pain is being felt widely here.
Still, Meherwan Irani, who has more than 300 members on staff waiting to go back to work at his restaurants Chai Pani and Botiwalla, refuses to open in a week, saying he would rather rely on guidance from medical experts and residents’ feedback before opening. “I know small business owners are hurting and desperate—we are too,” he told The Daily Beast. “But if we lose the public’s trust and confidence right now, because we reopened even though it wasn’t safe, we’ll risk losing that trust for a long time to come.”
Salon owner Booth, who has never been closed this long since opening 23 years ago, said she had no desire to touch anyone until at least the middle of May. She laughed at the guidance from the governor to maintain social distancing as she cut or washed someone’s hair. “It’s not social distancing if you’re touching someone. We touch people for a living,” she said, adding, “I would never pick money over putting someone’s life in danger.”
For the residents who live near these businesses, the feeling is mutual. Hapeville resident Christeene Alcosiba, who works for SalesLoft, could not understand what she called a partisan move from the state’s leader. “It is completely irresponsible and craven to ignore the advice of the scientific and medical community to assuage people on the fringe, and I have zero interest in going out until there is widespread testing or a vaccine,” she said.
With Alison Auerbach’s husband working Emergency Room shifts in Cobb County on the frontlines of the pandemic, the family chose to stay at home even before being ordered to do so, she said. They isolated themselves because they know her husband’s job makes them a risk to anyone they may see.
“The lack of testing and reliable data in Georgia means reopening is based on absolutely nothing but greed and the desire to kiss the president’s ass,” Auerbach told The Daily Beast. “It’s not safe, there will be a second wave, and while my son and I are privileged enough to continue isolating, most are not.”
She added, of Kemp, “I think he’s an asshat, and you can quote me.”