Coronavirus Updates: Kemp To Allow Some Shuttered Businesses To Reopen Friday

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp listens to a question from the press during a tour of a massive temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center  in Atlanta.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp listens to a question from the press during a tour of a massive temporary hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Credit Ron Harris, Pool / Associated Press
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Updated Monday at 7:30 p.m.

Georgia’s Republican governor announced plans Monday to restart the state’s economy before the end of the week, saying many businesses that closed to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus could reopen as early as Friday.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s timetable, one of the most aggressive in the nation, would allow gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors and other businesses to reopen as long as owners follow strict social-distancing and hygiene requirements. By Monday, movie theaters may resume selling tickets, and restaurants limited to takeout orders could return to limited dine-in service.

In neighboring Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee announced that most businesses will begin reopening as soon as next week.

“In the same way that we carefully closed businesses and urged operations to end to mitigate the virus’s spread, today we’re announcing plans to incrementally and safely reopen sectors of our economy,” Kemp said.

Bars, nightclubs and live performance venues will remain closed.

Kemp’s action comes a month after he closed many businesses and not quite three weeks after he issued a shelter-at-home order that will remain in place until April 30. Kemp said elderly and medically fragile people should continue to stay at home until May 13.

The governor said a decline in emergency room visits by people with flu-like symptoms indicates that infections are coming down. But he acknowledged Georgia has lagged when it comes to COVID-19 testing and announced new initiatives to ramp it up.

He said the state medical college in Augusta will begin producing thousands of swabs each day for collecting test samples. The school will also offer an online app statewide that would let people with symptoms consult with a clinician and be referred for testing if warranted. Meanwhile, the Georgia National Guard will begin deploying teams to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities with equipment for administering 1,500 tests per day.

“Testing defines the battlefield and informs our long-term strategy,” Kemp said. “These efforts significantly increase our capacity as we take measured steps forward.”

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, also a Republican, said his mandatory safer-at-home order will expire April 30, which will pave the way for 89 of the state’s 95 counties to begin opening businesses.

But Lee’s announcement did not apply to counties with the largest cities, including Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby and Sullivan counties — areas that are not overseen by Tennessee’s Department of Health but have their own public health districts.

Lee said officials were “working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible.”

Some businesses will be allowed to reopen as early as April 27, but it was unclear exactly which ones will be granted such clearance. Lee told reporters that such details would be finalized by his economy recovery team later this week.

Health officials say Georgia’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen above 700 as new numbers were reported Monday. At least 775 deaths statewide have been linked to the virus, the Georgia Department of Public Health said. Infections have been confirmed in over 19,000 people.

Kemp’s announcement followed calls from President Donald Trump and protesters to lift restrictions.

Automaker Kia planned to reopen its manufacturing plant in west Georgia next Monday after a nearly monthlong shutdown that the company attributed to supply chain shortages and concerns about the virus, plant spokesman Rick Douglas said.

On Monday, about 40 workers at the plant began making face shields to help offset a shortage of protective gear for medical workers and first responders. The company said those workers are having their temperatures scanned and are being provided with masks and gloves. Their workstations are arranged to enforce social distancing. Douglas said similar safeguards will be used when the rest of Kia’s Georgia employees return to work next week.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia or death.

Georgia State Researchers Report Promising Drug

Researchers at Georgia State University have found that a drug for rheumatoid arthritis does inhibit the coronavirus, at least in a petri dish.

They have submitted their findings about the drug Auranofin, to a global research website.

Researcher Mukesh Kumar says within 48 hours of treating a human cell, the amount of virus dropped by 95 percent. But he says it’s only one element in ongoing research around the world.

“It’s good to know what kind of drugs work, I think there may be more drugs that can be more effective. We’re doing more studies,” Kumar said. “Maybe we’re finding more combinations. It’s an ongoing thing we’re always looking for better drugs and better combinations.”

Sports Teams Prepping For Action

Atlanta’s professional sports teams continue preparations to eventually return to action.

The coronavirus has slowed a normally busy time of year.

Atlanta United had played two regular season matches before play was halted in March. Last week, the MLS said the earliest it would return would be June 8.

Whether fans would actually be allowed back in stadiums by then is unclear.

Major League Baseball was reportedly considering starting play without fans and only in stadiums in Arizona, an idea that drew pushback from players.

There’s likewise no start date for the Atlanta Dream’s WNBA season.

The Atlanta Falcons, of course, aren’t scheduled to get back to work until the summer. The NFL draft, which had been scheduled for Las Vegas has been downsized to a TV only event.

It starts Thursday night with the Falcons picking 16th overall.

Marietta Schools Is Making Buses Hotspots

Marietta City Schools just transformed 12 school buses into mobile WiFi hotspots for kids.

It’s an effort to make it easier for kids to get connected and online with their teachers and classes.

District officials say the bus hot-spots pull into apartment complexes or park areas….

and one bus provides Wi-fi for all students within a 300-yard radius.

Meanwhile, the Cobb County Schools Foundation distributed more than 600 free laptops to families last week. Cobb officials say the laptops were given to students in-need.

Georgia Bar Exam Rescheduled

Georgia’s Supreme Court has rescheduled the state bar exam because of the coronavirus outbreak.

As a result, the high court indicated that recent law graduates will be allowed to practice temporarily, without a bar license.

The exam, originally set for July, has been postponed until September 9 and 10.

Officials say more than 1,000 students take the bar exam each year. Almost all sit close together in the same convention hall.

The Court took this step after consulting with the Georgia Department of Public Health.

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