Details Of Georgia's Controversial Reopening Amid Coronavirus

Kathleen Sturgeon

GEORGIA — Gov. Brian Kemp acknowledged Monday there is a risk as the state starts allowing certain businesses to reopen as early as Friday, even as Georgia nears 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, leaving many concerned.

Kemp's office released more information on how businesses must handle commerce during the coronavirus outbreak, while some officials criticized the move as too much too soon.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an interview Monday night with ABC News Live that she is "extremely concerned about the announcement the governor made."

"Our biggest outbreak in the state came from two funerals … for us to go back to opening up houses of worship just seems a bit premature to me," Lance Bottoms said. "I will continue to use my voice as mayor of Atlanta to ask people to continue to stay home, follow the science and exercise common sense."

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said on Tuesday that he supports South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster's plan to reopen a small section of the state's economy with a focus on social distancing.

"I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon," Graham said on Twitter. "We respect Georgia's right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together. What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina."

The governor spelled out a timeline for many types of businesses — from hair salons to restaurants and movie theaters — as well as churches to reopen to gatherings.

Beginning Friday, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians and their schools, and massage therapists can reopen statewide, following social distancing guidelines.

The businesses that are reopening face restrictions, including social distancing and regular sanitation. Businesses that allow more than 10 people at a single location must require at least a 6-foot distance between people.

Kemp released guidelines Monday night for the businesses to begin minimum basic operations to mitigate the exposure and spread of the coronavirus. Those guidelines include:

  • Screening and evaluating workers who exhibit signs of illness, such as a fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, cough or shortness of breath.

  • Requiring workers who exhibit signs of illness to not report to work, or to seek medical attention.

  • Enhancing sanitation of the workplace as appropriate.

  • Requiring hand-washing or sanitation by workers at appropriate places within the business location.

  • Providing personal protective equipment as available and appropriate to the function and location of the worker within the business location.

  • Prohibiting gatherings of workers during working hours.

  • Permitting workers to take breaks and meals outside, in their office or personal workspace, or in such other areas where proper social distancing is attainable.

  • Implementing teleworking for all possible workers.

  • Implementing staggered shifts for all possible workers.

  • Holding all meetings and conferences virtually, wherever possible.

  • Delivering intangible services remotely wherever possible.

  • Discouraging workers from using other workers' phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.

  • Prohibiting handshaking and other unnecessary person-to person contact in the workplace.

  • Placing notices that encourage hand hygiene at the entrance to the workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen.

  • Suspending the use of personal identification number (PIN) pads, PIN entry devices, electronic signature capture, and any other credit card receipt signature requirements to the extent such suspension is permitted by agreements with credit card companies and credit agencies.

  • Enforcing social distancing of non-cohabitating persons while present on such entity's leased or owned property.

  • For retailers and service providers, providing for alternative points of sale outside of buildings, including curbside pickup or delivery of products and/or services if an alternative point of sale is permitted under Georgia law.

  • Increasing physical space between workers and customers.

  • Providing disinfectant and sanitation products for workers to clean their workspace, equipment and tools.

  • Increasing physical space between workers' worksites to at least 6 feet.

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Also disagreeing with Kemp's decision is Stacey Abrams, his Democratic opponent in the last governor’s race. She criticized the reopening when she spoke Tuesday to "CBS This Morning."

“There is no legitimate reason for opening the state except politics, and it’s deeply disingenuous to pretend otherwise,” Abrams said.

One of the types of businesses about to open is nail salons, which Abrams described as places where low-income workers will be forced to return to work and risk exposure.

“This isn’t about politics, this is about people’s lives,” Abrams said. “We have people who are vulnerable and the least resistant being put on the front lines.”

Kemp’s refusal to expand Medicaid means many workers don’t have access to health care, she said.

Abrams has started an initiative called Project 100, which will give $1,000 to 100,000 people hurt by the coronavirus. The recipients are SNAP benefits. Donors include ordinary citizens, along with companies such as Google and "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for reopening, released by President Donald Trump's administration, says that states need to have 14 days of declining new case totals before they can begin easing restrictions.

Kemp said that "due to favorable data and more testing," it's safe for Georgia to take these steps. However, the numbers of deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed cases of coronavirus are still increasing in the state.

As of noon Monday, there have been 733 deaths, 18,947 cases, and 3,550 hospitalizations in Georgia. Deaths make up 3.87 percent of Georgia cases. From the numbers released at noon Saturday, this is an increase of 1,278 cases, 130 hospitalizations and 60 deaths. Since noon Sunday, the increase was 646 cases, 86 hospitalized and 46 deaths.

Additionally, Kemp said theaters, private social clubs and dine-in services at restaurants will be allowed to reopen Monday, if also following social distancing and sanitation guidelines. He will release a second executive order later this week outlining the restrictions for these services.

The state's shelter-in-place order is still active, Kemp said, and will expire at midnight April 30.

"We urge everyone to follow CDC and DPH guidelines to shelter in place as often as you can," Kemp said. "Limit your travel, and limit who goes with you on errands to limit potential exposure."

Georgians are advised to wear a mask in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. For medically fragile and elderly residents, the shelter-in-place order remains through May 13, the day Georgia's public health emergency expires.

Kemp said in-person church services were never banned, but instead he encouraged online and remote services.

"In-person services should always practice social distancing and work to implement sanitation procedures to keep congregations safe," Kemp said. "I urge faith leaders to continue to help us in this effort, to keep their congregation safe by heeding the advice of public health officials. Of course, online, call-in and drive-in services remain good options for religious institutions."

Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks and live-performance venues will remain closed. Kemp said his office will continue to review the data to determine the next steps for these establishments.

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This article originally appeared on the Canton-Sixes Patch