ATLANTA (AP) — 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.
Heath officials say Georgia’s death toll from COVID-19 has risen above 700 as new numbers were reported Monday. At least 733 deaths statewide have been linked to the virus, the Georgia Department of Public Health said. Infections have been confirmed in nearly 19,000 people.
Kemp’s announcement followed calls from President Donald Trump and protesters to lift restrictions.
Shane Hazel, a libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, promoted a small protest Sunday at the Cherokee County courthouse in Canton. In video posted on his Facebook page, Hazel argued that the restrictions were an unconstitutional imposition and that officials had “overstepped.”
State Rep. David Clark, a Buford Republican, posted online Friday that it was “time for Georgia and America to reopen for business.”
“If we continue on the path we are headed down, we will totally destroy not only the U.S. economy, but also the world economy,” he said.
Automaker Kia planned to reopen its manufacturing plant in west Georgia next week after a nearly monthlong shutdown that the company attributed to supply chain shortages and concerns about the virus. All 2,800 workers at Kia’s plant in West Point will return to work when production resumes, plant spokesman Rick Douglas said.
Douglas did not give a specific reopening date. Georgia’s only auto plant has been shut down since March 30.
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.