Some Georgia businesses reopen despite rise in deaths

His decision has pit him against mayors from cities including Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, as well as advice rooted in a data model often cited by the White House.

Georgia offers drive-thru testing and has asked state health officials to test all symptomatic people, the governor has said.

But some business owners believe it’s too soon to reopen and have decided to remain closed until they feel it’s safe, like Sabrina Watkins, who runs a hair salon in the Atlanta suburb of College Park.

At least 15 clients have called to find out if they can get their hair styled Friday, Watkins said. But she has no plans to return to work anytime soon.

“I said, ‘No, absolutely not. Get your hair done for what?'” Watkins said. “There’s a pandemic, people are dying. As much as I love the business, now is not the time, regardless of who says it is.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has called Kemp’s decision perplexing for a state battling a virus that’s killed nearly 900 residents and sickened about 22,000 others. Nationwide, the death toll has surpassed 50,000, according to the Johns Hopkins University.

Bottoms said Friday morning that she expects some people will not heed pleas for social distancing.

“They will go into hair salons and go and get manicures and pedicures as if it’s business as usual,” Bottoms told CNN’s John Berman. “And then what I expect is that in a couple of weeks we will see our numbers continue to rise in this state.”

“Nothing has changed,” she said, urging residents of her city to stay home. “People are still getting infected. People are still dying.”

Brian Lambert, owner of a coffee and sweets shop in Forsyth, Georgia, opens the windows of his business as he gets ready to reopen next week.

Brian Lambert, owner of a coffee and sweets shop in Forsyth, Georgia, opens the windows of his business as he gets ready to reopen next week.

Brian Lambert, owner of a coffee and sweets shop in Forsyth, Georgia, opens the windows of his business as he gets ready to reopen next week.

Business owners conflicted over reopening

As Georgia hums back to life weeks after coronavirus emptied streets, some small business owners are struggling to figure out what’s best.

Shannon Stafford decided to open her salon in Savannah. And while she’s working to implement as many safeguards as she can, Stafford conceded maintaining 6 feet of distance is not possible between a hair stylist and a client.

This is where all 50 states stand on reopening

This is where all 50 states stand on reopening

“You can kind of distance between the next two people throughout the salon,” Stafford said Friday, “but it’s going to be difficult because we’re so hands on.”

Customers will have their temperatures checked when they arrived and they would also have to fill out a questionnaire, Stafford told CNN. Stylists will also be vigilant about wearing masks, washing their hands and making sure they have fresh garments.

“Hopefully that’s enough to be able to protect my business,” she said.

Businesses that reopen must follow social distancing guidelines, maintain sanitation and screen their employees for symptoms such as fever and respiratory illness, Kemp said. Theaters and dine-in restaurants will be allowed to reopen Monday — even with a statewide shelter-in-place order that expires at the end of the month.

Sabra Dupree is apprehensive as she reopens her family hair salon in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, she said. But she’s doing it to help some of her stylists who are not receiving unemployment.

The salon has taken extra precautions by minimizing staff and appointments, and moving around workstations, she said. Staff and clients will wear masks at all times and sanitize regularly.

Before the outbreak, Watkins saw about 10 clients daily at the work space she shares with five stylists — an arrangement she said raises the risk of exposure, she said. Some of her clients are elderly and more vulnerable to infections.

“None of us are being tested; how do we track who’s carrying it, who is giving it to whom? I don’t want to take part in spreading the disease and risking their lives,” she said. “Staying home gives us a greater chance until the numbers go down as far as infections and the death toll.”

The head of the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers has applauded the governor’s move.

“We have 95,000 licensees under our board, most of whom are independent contractors that have no other source of income,” Kay Kendrick said.

John Lewis Freedom Parkway into downtown Atlanta sits empty after a statewide shelter-in-place went into effect on April 3.

John Lewis Freedom Parkway into downtown Atlanta sits empty after a statewide shelter-in-place went into effect on April 3.

John Lewis Freedom Parkway into downtown Atlanta sits empty after a statewide shelter-in-place went into effect on April 3.

Meantime, some national gym chains have indicated they will not reopen, even with a green light from the governor.

In an email to members, LA Fitness said it would hold off on opening “while we seek a greater consensus between the federal, state and local authorities on the proper path forward.”

Until then, the company is reconfiguring gyms to space equipment according to social distancing guidelines and reduce capacity by about 30%, the email said. New cleaning protocols are also being put in place.

SoulCycle studios in Georgia will also stay closed Friday, according to Harvey Spevak, the executive chairman of Equinox Group, which owns chains like SoulCycle and Pure Yoga in addition to its health clubs.

The company’s reopening plans will vary by state and local area, Spevak told CNN, based on guidance from officials. The company is implementing precautions like new cleaning technology and consulting infectious disease experts on its plans to reopen.

Experts and the President criticize Kemp’s move

Health experts have criticized the move to reopen Georgia, saying it’s too soon and risks setting off another wave of infections. President Donald Trump at first applauded Kemp for his aggressive plan to restart the economy, a source told CNN, then publicly bashed him during news briefings.
Trump's inconsistent coronavirus messaging 'compromises public trust,' former surgeon general says

Trump's inconsistent coronavirus messaging 'compromises public trust,' former surgeon general says

“I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump said. “But, at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right.”

Georgia is home to one of the nation’s largest cities and the location of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, the world’s busiest airport.

Just last month, coronavirus cases exploded in the central Georgia hub of Albany after residents attended two funerals in late February and early March. The outbreak turned into a full-blown health crisis for the city of 75,000, highlighting that smaller, more rural areas are as vulnerable as larger cities. At 109 deaths so far, Dougherty County, where Albany is located, has more fatalities than any other county in Georgia.
The state’s decision to reopen also has set off a wave of controversy nationwide. Bottoms said she received a racist text message after she voiced her reservations, though it won’t deter her.

Other Southern states follow similar steps

Neighboring states are also starting to take steps toward reopening. In South Carolina, GOP Gov. Henry McMaster announced some stores can reopen at 20% capacity along with beaches.
That state shouldn’t reopen until June 8 at the soonest, the health institute’s modeling indicates.

Mayor Stephen Benjamin of Columbia has accused McMaster of using “arbitrary dates” instead of data to decide.

“We need more testing. We need more data, and then we can decide how we go back into business,” Benjamin said.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said the governor’s reopening plan was “a measured response” that took safety and social distancing into account. “It’s not like he opened the barn door and everything flies out,” Tecklenburg said.

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