Kemp on coronavirus rollback: ‘This is not a giant leap forward’

200408-Atlanta-Gov. Brian Kemp listens to a question from a journalist during a press conference Wednesday afternoon April 8, 2020 at the Georgia State Capitol as Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Kathleen Toomey listens in the background.

Credit: Ben@BenGray.com for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben@BenGray.com for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gov. Brian Kemp defended his aggressive move to roll back restrictions he instituted to contain the coronavirus, as mayors of Georgia cities warn they're not ready for a wave of businesses to reopen this week and federal health officials raised concerns.

In a Tuesday appearance on Fox News, Kemp characterized his decision to reopen restaurants, theaters, barber shops, fitness centers and other businesses shuttered this month as a “measured approach” to help Georgians revive a faltering economy.

“We took measured steps to get to the shelter in place, and now we’re taking measured steps to come out of that,” said Kemp. “This is not a giant leap forward.”

The governor came under fire Tuesday from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and other local leaders upset that his statewide order barred them from enacting more severe restrictions. And key members of his state coronavirus task force said they were left in the dark by his decision.

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Kemp told Fox News that he’s heard from droves of other Georgians who are “tired” of the shutdown that drained the economy, upended daily life and led to record unemployment claims.

“It’s a tough balance. I understand where folks like the mayor and others may agree or disagree. I have some people protesting me because I took this step, and I may have others that protest me because I didn’t go far enough,” he said.

Echoing his remarks at Monday's press conference, the governor said the guidelines that businesses must meet to resume operations will force them to innovate and earn the public's trust.

“I imagine there will be people in gyms that will be a lot safer than they would be going to the grocery store or some of the places of business that are part of the critical infrastructure,” he said. “This is going to take some common sense.”

He added: “If people don’t want to open the gym, they don’t have to. But when you close somebody’s business down and take their livelihoods ... I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The remarks came after Kemp’s decision became a theme of President Donald Trump’s daily coronavirus press conference, with questions that invoked U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina’s concern that Georgia is opening “too soon.”

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Trump said he planned a conversation with Kemp later Tuesday evening and, speaking broadly about state actions, said “if we see them doing something we don’t like, we’ll stop them very quickly. But they’re doing a good job. They’re being careful.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the federal coronavirus response coordinator, seemed to endorse calls by local Georgia officials who have urged residents to stay home despite Kemp’s directive.

“I believe people in Atlanta would understand if their cases are not going down, they need to continue to do everything we said: social distancing, washing your hands, wearing a mask in public,” said Birx.

“If there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things,” she said. “I don’t know how, but people are very creative.”

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