Coronavirus Updates: Kemp’s Plan Leaves Many Georgia Business Owners Wary, Confused

Christina Blossey says her business, Piercing Experience in Atlanta, is likely to remain closed until she can be assured that she can acquire masks and cleaning materials regularly to keep her customers safe. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced a plan to allow certain businesses to reopen beginning Friday.

Ron Harris / Associated Press

Gov. Brian Kemp’s call to reopen shuttered businesses in Georgia left many business owners wary and confused as they considered how to protect themselves and their customers in a state where coronavirus deaths exceed 800 and confirmed infections have surpassed 20,000.

Kemp’s plan to kick-start the economy is one of the most aggressive announced since President Donald Trump laid out benchmarks for states to start lifting restrictions. But Georgia’s testing system has lagged behind much of the nation, and public health experts warned that moving too quickly could fuel a resurgence in infections.

“It’s concerning. I’m certainly not going to go to the gym or get a haircut,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta. “I’ll let people make their own decisions.”

Kemp’s order lets gyms, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors open with restrictions Friday. Restaurants can resume dine-in service Monday, though bars and nightclubs must remain closed.

“The private sector is going to have to convince the public that it’s safe to come back into these businesses,” Kemp said Monday.

Georgia has processed more than 900,000 new unemployment claims in the last month. But many business owners aren’t convinced it’s time to end the lockdown.

“I think most of our customers are not ready to venture out yet,” said Kristin Allin, who, along with her husband, owns Bread & Butterfly restaurant in Atlanta. She said her restaurant will remain closed for now, possibly for another month or more.

Ronique Holloway plans to wait until May 1 to reopen her Atlanta-area hair salon, where she’s the only stylist. She worries that’s still too soon but said she doesn’t have a choice because she needs money to support her daughter.

“You’re staring at somebody right in their face when you shampoo it. Heaven forbid if you talk,” said Holloway, who plans to wear a mask and gloves.

In rural Terrell County, Karl Gould said it’s time to reopen businesses even though his age — 82 — makes him vulnerable to serious illness.

“Do you want to continue being shut down with a destroyed economy forever?” said Gould, a retired engineer. “Sooner or later, you’ve got to suck it up and say, ‘We’re going to reopen, and if we have some casualties, we do.’”

Experts say widespread testing and the ability to trace people exposed to infected patients are critical to resuming business without causing a new wave of sickness.

Georgia is working on those pieces, but isn’t there yet, said Dr. Harry J. Heiman, an associate professor of public health at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He said Kemp’s decision to reopen businesses without sufficient testing or contact tracing is “premature and it’s irresponsible.”

Georgia had administered more than 88,000 tests as of Tuesday, but its per-capita testing rate is in the bottom 10 of states.

Kemp acknowledged Georgia’s testing has lagged and announced initiatives to produce more swabs and employ an app to let clinicians remotely screen people. Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey said the state is working to expand its ability to trace the contacts of infected people.

Ian Jones, who owns four restaurants in the Atlanta area, is concerned Kemp’s order could force people to reopen prematurely because lenders and landlords might stop being forgiving.

“It just seems like it’s too early,” Jones said.

In the small city of Dawson, clothing store owner Dost Mohammad said several of his regular customers died from COVID-19. Keeping his doors shut could quickly put him out of business, he said, but he’s not willing to risk reopening. Without a vaccine or a cure, the only medicine is to stay away from each other, he said.

“I would rather survive, I want to stay above the ground,” Mohammad said. “Our priority should be the protection of our people.”


Ga. Legislative Black Caucus To Kemp: Rescind Decision

The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus is calling on Gov. Brian Kemp to rescind his decision to partially reopen the state for business Friday, even as coronavirus infections continue to spread in the state.

In a statement, the lawmakers say, “… the idea of allowing barbershops, bars, bowling alleys, massage parlors and clubs to reopen in the midst of a pandemic without ensuring necessary testing and protection is incomprehensible.”

They continue: “We cannot prioritize the economy of a few, over the safety of all people, because without people we have no economy.”

The lawmakers say they will not stand by silently and watch the premature opening of businesses that are mostly in African American communities.

They call on the state to provide universal testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment for all.


Georgia Cosmetology, Barbers Board Setting Guidelines

The Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers says it’s issuing sanitation guidelines for the safe reopening of businesses Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Board officials say its 95,000 salon and spa licensees are mostly owners who have no other source of income.

The guidelines recommend owners do temperature checks on employees, ask customers about possible exposure to COVID-19 and see clients by appointment only.

But Georgia lawmakers are questioning Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to restart the economy so soon.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Tuesday that Kemp didn’t speak with her — or several other mayors in hard-hit areas — before making his announcement to reopen businesses.

She is also concerned that there is still not enough treatment and testing capacity for COVID-19.


Drive-Thru Testing By Appointment In Gwinnett

Hundreds of people who suspect they might have COVID-19 are being tested Wednesday at the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett County.

The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County Health Departments say the drive-thru testing site is by appointment only.

For more information on how to get tested, call the health department at 770-513-5631.


Deep South States Go It Alone, Not Coordinating

Governors in 17 states have committed to regional coordination to reopen their economies during the coronavirus outbreak — but none are in the South, where leaders are going it alone, just as they did in imposing restrictions.

As questions about when and how to ease virus-control measures becomes increasingly politically charged, governors in the Deep South have resisted any appearance of synchronization, instead driving home their message that each state must make its own decision.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp plans to have many of his state’s businesses up and running again as soon as Friday. Fellow Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced that most businesses will begin resuming operations as soon as next week.

Some other Republican leaders were taking smaller steps, like reopening their beaches. In the virus hot spot of Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was also taking a more cautious approach, announcing he’ll first allow some non-emergency medical procedures to resume next week.

But no one wants to coordinate. Edwards, for one, notes neighboring states have less expansive outbreaks. Even when several Republican governors held phone calls to talk about reopening plans, they insisted they weren’t working in concert — and left out their Democratic counterparts in the region.

“We’re trying to take, where we can, our destiny into our own hands,” said Kemp.