President Trump said Wednesday that he opposes Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s controversial decision to allow some non-essential businesses to reopen despite a high number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state.
“I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree, strongly, with his decision to open certain facilities which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia,” Trump said at a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, adding, “At the same time, he must do what he thinks is right.”
Trump has been pushing for a quick reopening of the U.S. economy, but health officials on the task force have prevailed upon him to release a plan that lifts stay-at-home orders in phases and only after a sustained decline in the number of cases.
“I think spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barber shops in phase one — we’re going to have phase two very soon — is just too soon. I think it’s too soon,” Trump added.
On Tuesday, Kemp announced that he was lifting restrictions on businesses including gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, barbers, cosmetologists, hair and nail salons and massage therapists that would allow them to reopen Friday, with churches, restaurants and movie theaters to follow.
Given the favorable data trends, enhanced testing through @AUG_University, & advice of state healthcare leaders, we are taking another measured step forward. We remain focused on protecting lives - and livelihoods - in every part of Georgia. https://t.co/tWih2eRCcl #gapol
— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) April 21, 2020
Kemp’s order immediately drew criticism from politicians, newspaper editorial boards and citizens concerned that easing the restrictions represents a public health risk. As of Wednesday, more than 21,00 citizens of Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, while nearly 850 people have died from it there so far.
Trump emphasized that he was sympathetic to the small businesses affected by the shutdown. “Incredible people, they’re great,” he said. “Bikers for Trump — a lot of tattoos.”
Trump has gone back and forth over the past month on whether he could overrule states on social-distancing and stay-at-home orders, at one point declaring he had “total authority” to do so, and at other times saying he would defer to the governors.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on infectious diseases on the president’s coronavirus task force, made clear at Wednesday’s briefing that he did not approve of Kemp’s decision.
“If I were advising the governor, I would tell him that he has to be careful,” Fauci said, adding that there was a “possibility of a rebound.”
Asked about the medical justification behind Kemp’s order, Fauci replied, “I would advise him not to do that.”
Kemp responded to the president’s criticism Wednesday night in a post on Facebook:
“Earlier today, I discussed Georgia’s plan to reopen shuttered businesses for limited operations with President Trump,” Kemp wrote. “I appreciate his bold leadership and insight during these difficult times and the framework provided by the White House to safely move states forward. Our next, measured step is driven by data and guided by state public health officials. We will continue with this approach to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of all Georgians.”
Trump took credit on Wednesday for helping Kemp defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018. Still, Trump’s rebuke on Kemp’s order easing stay-at-home orders was immediately reported across the state.
“I happen to disagree with him,” Trump reiterated, adding, “only in timing.”
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