Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced on Monday that gyms, hair salons, nail salons, barbershops, and bowling alleys will be allowed to reopen in the Peach State on Friday—even as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise.
During an afternoon press conference, Kemp said that the statewide shelter-in-place order will expire on April 30, however he urged the “medically fragile” to continue to hunker down until May 13.
The governor, who cited the pandemic’s heavy toll on the state’s economy, said that some restaurants and movie theaters can reopen on Monday as long as they adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed. He also gave the green light to churches to hold in-person services.
The announcement comes even as top health officials maintain that the best way to prevent further spread of the virus at this stage of the pandemic is to continue enforced social distancing.
The governors of two other Southern states, South Carolina and Tennessee, moved to ease restrictions on businesses shortly after Kemp’s announcement. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced that retail stores, including department stores and flea markets, will be allowed to reopen on Monday at 5 p.m. with social distancing requirements.
McMaster’s order—which also lifted closures of public beaches, piers, and docks—requires stores to operate at 20 percent capacity or less and customers to stand six feet apart.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said that most businesses will be allowed to reopen on Monday, saying that “as we open up our economy it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it.”
As of Monday, Georgia has recorded over 18,301 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and at least 637 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Savannah Mayor Van R. Johnson told The Daily Beast that he is “beyond disappointed” in Kemp’s order, which he called “premature, irresponsible, and places the lives of Savannahians at risk.”
“The science has been clear that expanded and comprehensive testing, combined with decelerated infections rates and reduced hospitalizations are the prerequisites to any phased re-openings or relaxation of emergency order,” he added. “It is not clear to me that all of these boxes have been checked.”
Kemp said his primary concern is Georgians “going broke worried about whether they can feed their children and make the mortgage payment.”
“These are tough moments in our state and our nation. I hear the concerns of those that I’m honored to serve,” Kemp said. “I am confident that together we will emerge victorious from this war we have been fighting.”
The order requires businesses to meet a set of 20 guidelines to reopen, including screening employees for symptoms of COVID-19, ramping up sanitation procedures, and making people stay six feet apart.
Just last week, Kemp insisted that his main focus was to increase testing capacity in the state and said it was ultimately too early to determine whether he would relax restrictions in place to control the spread of the virus, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The governor has faced criticism for his delayed response to the outbreak, finally issuing a shelter-in-place order weeks after the first reported infections in the state. As he defended that decision, he claimed on April 2 that he had only just found out that the virus could be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers.
“Those individuals could have been infecting people before they ever felt bad, but we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours,” the governor said, as he announced the statewide order.
The governor’s revelation, which he called a “game-changer,” shocked health officials who had been warning for weeks of the risk of those who could spread the disease without exhibiting any symptoms.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta called his remarks “inexcusable” in an interview with CNN, adding, “We’ve known this for a long time. “To say that we’ve just found out in the last 24 hours and that’s why we’re doing this, this is just not right.”
Last week, President Donald Trump said that governors can call their own “shots” on reopening their states and relaxing social distancing guidelines. Kemp’s order comes amid conservative protests against shelter-in-place orders across the country, demanding that state governors end enforced social distancing.