Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is running into resistance from mayors and businesses who fear a new wave of coronavirus infections as he seeks an early end to his state’s shutdown.
Kemp, a Republican and staunch ally of President Donald Trump, on Monday announced Georgia would allow nail salons, massage therapists, bowling alleys and gyms to open Friday. In-person church services can resume. And restaurants and movie theaters can open Monday. His order also bars cities from imposing their own restrictions on businesses.
It’s the most aggressive move yet to reopen a state’s economy as Trump optimistically pushes for a May 1 end to some statewide lockdowns. It also came as a surprise to mayors and some members of Kemp’s own coronavirus task force.
In Georgia, mayors are pushing back, some businesses are saying they’ll keep their doors closed and even Trump allies are questioning whether Kemp is moving too quickly.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, whose state is moving toward a more limited reopening, tweeted Tuesday: “I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast too soon.”
“We respect Georgia’s right to determine its own fate, but we are all in this together,” Graham, a Republican, said. “What happens in Georgia will impact us in South Carolina.”
Kemp was among the last governors to sign a shelter-in-place order on April 2. He was also mocked for admitting on April 1 that he had only just learned that asymptomatic people could spread the coronavirus – information that had been widely known for months.
Data collected by Johns Hopkins University shows that as of Tuesday, Georgia had seen 19,884 cases of coronavirus and had recorded 802 deaths resulting from the virus.
“In the same way that we carefully closed businesses and urged operations to end to mitigate the virus’ spread, today we’re announcing plans to incrementally and safely reopen sectors of our economy,” Kemp told reporters Monday.
Mayors in Georgia are pushing back against Kemp’s decision.
“I have searched my head and my heart on this and I am at a loss as to what the governor is basing this decision on,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, told CNN.
She said she is considering legal options for a city that she said is “not out of the woods yet.”
“You have to live to fight another day. And you have to be able to be amongst the living to be able to recover,” she said.
Kelly Girtz, the Democratic mayor of Athens, told CNN he would “not in the least” recommend going to gyms, tattoo parlors or bowling alleys on Friday. Gritz said he first wanted to see a dramatic increase in coronavirus testing and a sustained downward trend in confirmed cases.
“We’re not going to frequent businesses right now because we don’t feel safe. We’re not going to return to work,” he said the area’s residents have told him. “I’ve had a number of hair salon owners approach me over the last day and say we’re not opening our doors back up because we care about our employees and we care about our clients.”
Some businesses said they would not follow Kemp’s guidance and would keep their doors closed.
SoulCycle studios in Georgia will not open on Friday even though they’re allowed to, announced Harvey Spevak, the chairman of Equinox Group, which owns SoulCycle. Instead, he said, the company is working with infectious disease experts to determine when and how to reopen.
Celebrities who own Georgia businesses, including former professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, who owns a gym, and rapper Killer Mike, who owns barber shops, told TMZ they would not reopen Friday.
Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s 2018 opponent and a 2020 Democratic vice presidential prospect, criticized Kemp’s move Tuesday on MSNBC.
“The worry is that while trying to push a false opening of the economy, we risk putting more lives in danger, and there’s nothing about this that makes sense,” Abrams said.
Georgia’s coronavirus cases have been concentrated most heavily in largely African American regions of the state, raising concerns that opening businesses too quickly would disproportionately hurt black communities.
The virus has hit southwestern Georgia particularly hard. Albany, Georgia, Mayor Bo Dorough said he is “very upset” that mayors have been blocked by Kemp from setting stricter guidelines for businesses to reopen.
“I am hoping that we have passed the peak. But then you read about the possibility of a second wave and I am obviously concerned about that,” Dorough told CNN.
Reginald T. Jackson, the African Methodist Episcopal bishop in the Atlanta region, directed hundreds of AME churches to remain closed Sunday despite Kemp’s order that would allow them to host services.
“There is no need to increase the possibility of more sickness and death by gathering prematurely,” Jackson said in a statement. “We absolutely must increase testing, and flatten the curve before we begin to gather again.”