Georgia businesses reopen cautiously amid coronavirus worry

Some businesses in Georgia reopened cautiously Friday as Gov. Brian Kemp eased a monthlong shutdown amid experts’ warnings of a potential new surge in coronavirus infections and a potent objection from President Donald Trump.

Georgia has ranked in the bottom per capita for testing — a key component in preventing a resurgence — despite a bump in screenings this week, and critics say Kemp's order was premature.


With deaths and infections still rising in Georgia, many business owners planned to remain closed in spite of Kemp's assurance that hospital visits and new cases have leveled off enough for barbers, tattoo artists, massage therapists and personal trainers to return to work with restrictions including screening of customers' for potential symptoms, protective gear and frequent cleaning.

David Huynh had 60 clients booked for appointments at his nail salon in Savannah, but a clothing store, jewelry shop and chocolatier that share a street corner with his downtown business, Envy Nail Bar, remained closed as he opened.

“The phone’s been staying ringing off the hook,” Huynh said. “We’ve probably gotten hundreds of calls in the last hour.”

Four women clutching face masks were waiting outside when the nail salon opened for the first time since March 26.

“Yes, I am ready to get my nails fixed,” said Alina Davis, a police officer for the local school system, who has kept working throughout the crisis.

At the reopened Bodyplex Fitness Adventure in Grayson, a dozen people in masks worked out on two floors, spraying down machines and weights with sanitizer provided by the gym. The gym had a tiny fraction of its usual number of customers.

Although many businesses never closed, the governor has said it was imperative to begin easing his state’s economic suffering by allowing others to resume work. The Georgia Department of Labor announced Thursday that 1.1 million workers — about one-fifth of the state’s workforce — filed for unemployment in the five weeks since the crisis started.

Although two administration officials told The Associated Press that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly told Kemp they approved of his aggressive plan before the president bashed it publicly, Trump tweeted a denial Friday morning as businesses reopened.

Georgia’s approach to reopening is more aggressive than those of other states and countries. France won't reopen its restaurants, bars and cafes before June, and Serbia said gyms and hair salons can’t reopen until next week.

Public health experts have warned that reopening too quickly could trigger a coronavirus resurgence. Preventing that will require increased testing and robust tracking of infected people's contacts.

Georgia has more than 22,000 confirmed cases of the virus and 894 deaths, according to Department of Public Health statistics. The state has been lagging in the number of tests per capita, but has administered an increasing number of tests this week.

Wire coverage

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Kemp’s timeline to restart the economy proved too ambitious even for Trump, who said Wednesday that he “disagreed strongly” with the fellow Republican’s plan.

Starting Monday, Georgia will allow movie theaters to reopen and restaurants to resume dine-in service, as long as customers are kept at a distance.