Back in Business

Governor Brian Kemp has announced that several businesses will be allowed to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians and their respective schools, and massage therapists will be allowed to reopen on Friday, April 24 “due to favorable data and more testing,” Kemp, a Republican, announced Monday.

However, it will not be “business as usual,” as these businesses must follow 20 “minimum basic operations:”

  1. screening workers for fever and respiratory illness
  2. requiring symptomatic workers not to come into work
  3. enhancing workplace sanitation
  4. requiring hand washing or sanitation by workers
  5. providing personal protective equipment as available
  6. prohibiting gatherings of workers
  7. permitting outdoor breaks and meals
  8. holding meetings and conferences virtually when possible
  9. delivering intangible services remotely when possible
  10. discouraging workers from using other workers’ tools and equipment
  11. prohibiting handshakes and other unnecessary person-to-person contact
  12. placing notices encouraging hand hygiene
  13. suspending the use of keypads and similar technology
  14. providing alternate points of sale outside of buildings
  15. increasing physical space between workers and customers
  16. wearing masks and gloves if appropriate
  17. separating workspaces by six feet
  18. teleworking if possible
  19. implementing staggered shifts, and
  20. providing disinfectant and sanitation products to workers.

Additionally, movie theaters, private social clubs, and dine-in restaurants will be allowed to reopen on Monday, April 27. These businesses will remain subject to social distancing and sanitation mandates, however. Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, and live performance venues will remain closed.

Despite confirmed cases in Georgia rapidly nearing 20,000, Kemp said the state is “on track” to reach the Phase One plateau of the White House’s guidelines to state reopenings, which were released last week. To enter Phase One, a state must show either a “downward trajectory of positive tests as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period” or a “downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period.” Arrival into Phase One allows for large venues like movie theaters to reopen, as long as they follow social distancing protocols (patrons must be kept six feet apart).

Georgians will also be allowed to attend in-person church services, though Kemp advised churchgoers to “always practice social distancing” and encouraged “online and remote services.”

In a press briefing on Monday, Kemp claimed that, according to the Department of Public Health, “reports of emergency room visits for flu-like illnesses are declining, documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and appear to be declining, and we have seen declining emergency room visits in general.”

This decision has garnered ample criticism against Kemp. “Georgia is already lagging behind on testing and our health care providers don’t have enough [Personal Protective Equipment] because Kemp has failed again and again at handling this crisis,” the Georgia Democrats tweeted. “Today’s choice will endanger more Georgians’ lives.”

“Georgia: 14th highest infection/7th lowest testing rate … [thousands] of low-wage workers [are] already forced to risk their lives to make a living,” former Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams wrote on Twitter. “Weakened healthcare [with] closed rural hospitals, no Medicaid expansion & a doctor shortage. Reopen? Dangerously incompetent.”

Charlotte Clymer, the Rapid Response Press Secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, called the decision “a recipe for disaster.”

“Friends in Georgia: I am urging you to stay home as much as possible, regardless of what your governor says,” she said in a tweet. “This is a recipe for disaster, and I cannot stress enough the danger at hand. Please protect yourself and those around you: if you’re able, stay home.”

According to the AJC, Kemp said he doesn’t “give a damn about politics now” and that he’s more concerned about residents “going broke worried about whether they can feed their children and make the mortgage payment.”

Kemp’s Shelter-in-Place order, which he issued in early April, will remain in place until April 30. The statewide public health emergency status does not end until May 13, and the governor has advised that elderly and medically fragile residents should stay sheltered in place until then.