Unfazed by mounting criticism from mayors in his state and President Trump, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp forged ahead with his decision to allow businesses across the state to reopen Friday, as the confirmed coronavirus death toll in the United States passes 50,000 people.
Kemp, a Republican serving in his first term, was one of the last governors to impose a stay-at-home order for his state, which took effect on April 3.
Citing “favorable data, enhanced testing and approval of our health care professionals,” Kemp said Monday that some businesses once deemed nonessential, like fitness centers, tattoo parlors and nail salons, can welcome back customers starting Friday.
In a tweet on Friday, the president reiterated his most recent stance that it was too soon for Georgia to reopen.
“I (or @VP) never gave Governor Brian Kemp an OK on those few businesses outside of the Guidelines. FAKE NEWS!,” he said, despite praising the governor earlier this week. “Spas, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, & barber shops should take a little slower path, but I told the Governor to do what is right for the great people of Georgia (& USA)!”
The president has been urging governors throughout the country to begin lifting restrictions. During the White House coronavirus task force briefing on Tuesday, Trump appeared to laud the Georgia governor’s decision to follow his cue, calling Kemp “a very capable man.”
“He knows what he’s doing. He’s done a very good job as governor,” Trump said.
As NPR reported, Georgia has not met a series of benchmarks the White House outlined in its guidelines for states to begin reopening, including demonstrating a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases over 14 days.
Not all businesses in Georgia that could reopen in Georgia chose to, but for some, appointments books filled quickly.
In Savannah on Friday, David Huynh had 60 appointments scheduled at his nail salon, which has been closed since last month, as The Associated Press reported.
He said the loss of business is not just confined to the month his shop was shuttered.
“We lost graduations, proms and weddings,” Huynh said. “Already I see stores closing down permanently. … A lot of people don’t realize if the nation stays shut down any longer, there will be severe consequences.”
Neda Honarvar, the founder of Tough Love Yoga in Atlanta, did not mince words when asked whether she would open back up Friday.
“I’m just not willing to put myself or our teachers or our students at risk of getting sick,” Honarvar told reporter Emma Hurt of member station WABE.
Starting on Monday, movie theaters can open and restaurants will be allowed to serve to dine-in customers, subject to some safety restrictions.
Jennifer Shaffer of Dublin-based Deano’s Italian told WABE that she is confident she can reopen while also protecting the health of the staff and its patrons.
“We’re just going to do everything we need to do to make sure our customers and our staff are safe,” Shaffer said.
She added every employee will be required to wear face masks and gloves while serving. Shaffer said she plans to only keep her business at roughly a third of its capacity.
In the city of Macon, Marian Searcy, a barber, said he was ready to get started. He told Georgia Public Broadcasting that just before lunchtime, every seat at Edward’s Barber Shop was full, as was the waiting area.
“It’s always smart to have a nest egg saved up, but there’s nothing like working every day,” Searcy told the member station.
“Just me being a man and the stress of me being a man, to provide for my household, that’s my drive for coming back to work,” Searcy said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that at Studio 151 in the town of Dallas, located roughly 30 miles west of Atlanta, the salon’s owner said bookings began as early as 6:30 a.m.
“A sign on the door spelled out salon protocols, including those required by the state and additional measures to keep employees and customers safe,” the AJC reported.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said it was “unacceptable” to have people going out in public and called on residents to remain at home.
“Listen to the scientists. There’s nothing essential about going to a bowling alley or getting a manicure in the middle of a pandemic,” she said on ABC’s Good Morning America on Friday.
“I think to make an assumption that we are out of the woods is not based on anything other than a desire to open up businesses. And what I believe is that there are some that are willing to sacrifice lives for the sake of the economy and that is unacceptable to me,” she added.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said the governor’s decision was “reckless” on CNN earlier this week, adding he was “beyond disturbed” by it.
Georgia Department of Public Health reported that as of Friday afternoon, there have been 892 deaths in the state related to COVID-19.