Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, speak with Gov. Brian Kemp and his wife, Marty, as Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and his wife, Mary, stand behind them after arriving at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta on Friday.Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Ben@bengray.com
Photo: Ben@bengray.com

A look at major coronavirus developments during the past week

Gov. Brian Kemp continued to lift restrictions that were aimed at containing the coronavirus, signing an executive order that clears the way for larger gatherings and allows bars and nightclubs in Georgia to reopen if they follow guidelines.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence returned to Atlanta on Friday to highlight the state’s reopening strategy, marking his second visit to Georgia in a week. And state figures showed an increase in week-to-week cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Here is a look at major coronavirus developments during the past week.

Starting June 1, bars and nightclubs can reopen if they comply with strict social distancing and sanitation rules.

Bars, clubs allowed to reopen

Kemp’s executive order permits gatherings of more than 25 people starting Monday as long as the groups of people and establishments adhere to social distancing and sanitation guidelines.

School systems can hold summer courses if they follow state criteria.

Bars and nightclubs can reopen next week if they follow 39 guidelines that include screening workers for illness, limiting occupancy and requiring regular sanitation. Amusement parks can follow June 12 if they abide by other limits. Live performance venues will remain indefinitely shuttered.

Bars and nightclubs businesses have been closed since a statewide order took effect April 3. People older than 65, as well as the “medically fragile,” are urged to shelter in place until June 12.

The order is the latest move by Kemp to relax restrictions. Georgia was among the first states in the nation to allow restaurants to resume dine-in service and barbershops, nail salons and other personal grooming shops to reopen.

Kemp said the state’s stalled economy is being reinvigorated. He also invited professional and amateur sports leagues to resume play in Georgia if they adhere to regulations.

The governor continues to face criticism that he is putting the state’s economic vitality ahead of the safety of its residents.

“I think the governor has pretty much thrown up his hands and let the virus run its course at the expense of Georgians’ safety,” said state Rep. Jasmine Clark, D-Lilburn, an Emory University microbiologist. “I understand the urge to reopen things, but I do not think that people are expendable. And ignoring what our own data is showing is not a good idea.”

MORE: Georgia is relaxing more coronavirus rules. Here’s what it means.

» Complete coverage: Coronavirus

About 315 people were at the memorial service at Passion City Church for evangelist and Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias on Friday, May 29, 2020, in Atlanta. Masks and social distancing were among the safety measures. AP PHOTO / BRYNN ANDERSON
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Pence visits Atlanta again

For the second time in a week, Vice President Mike Pence flew into Dobbins Air Reserve Base to meet with business leaders to talk about Georgia’s coronavirus response and to honor the memory of a prominent evangelist.

Pence landed at Dobbins on Friday morning and headed to a memorial service for Ravi Zacharias, who died last week. He then met with small business owners.

On May 22, Pence trekked to Georgia to huddle with restaurant owners and meet with Gov. Brian Kemp. The vice president praised the state as “an example to the nation” for being one of the first to lift economic limits imposed during the pandemic.

MORE: Pence promises ‘help is on the way’ in return visit to Georgia

» Tips to keep you safer as Georgia reopens during pandemic

In this file photo, Emory Hospital registered nurse Aisha Bennett takes a nasal swab test for COVID-19 in a drive through site at the Georgia International Horse Park.(CURTIS COMPTON/CURTIS.COMPTON@AJC.COM)

Numbers up but unclear how significant

State figures showed an increase in week-to-week cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It’s unclear, however, whether it’s a statistical blip or it represents a significant change.

Kemp attributed the increase to a “backlog” of 15,000 tests, some from April, recently added to state databases.

Experts said the partial end of the state’s shelter-in-place order, allowing most Georgians to move about, is a key reason behind the rise, but also that more diagnostic testing is certainly turning up more new cases.

Dr. Colleen Kraft, director of Emory’s Clinical Virology Research Laboratory told reporters Thursday it was too early to know the full consequences of lifting restrictions.

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Medical workers, wearing masks to protect against the novel coronavirus, cross the campus of Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta on Friday, April 17, 2020. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Jobless ranks continue to surge

The state Department of Labor processed 165,499 initial jobless claims the week ending May 23, with many businesses continuing to lay off workers even as others reopen amid the pandemic.

More than 2 million claims seeking unemployment benefits have been handled since mid-March. Though that includes duplicates, mistakes and some outright attempts at fraud, nearly half the claims have been judged as valid by authorities.

In a separate report also issued Thursday, the labor department said that metro Atlanta had lost a stunning 293,800 jobs last month while the official unemployment rate jumped to a record 12.7%.

That job loss was nearly five times as high as the previous worst, suffered during the harshest month of the Great Recession in 2009.

That figure does not include residents who have dropped out of the labor force altogether. Atlanta’s labor force fell last month by nearly 200,000, according to the department.

Economic recovery on the horizon?

While the job loss statistics are grim, the situation is temporary, said Mark Butler, state labor commissioner.

“I am going to go out on a limb and say that we are going to recover faster than most states,” he said.

Job openings are up, he said.

For example, Nuts ‘n Berries, which has long operated in Brookhaven, is opening a second grocery store, this one in Decatur and is hiring about 24 more employees.

Amazon, which has said it would hire 175,000 people across North America, said it will add more than 1,800 new employees in Georgia.

And Huali Floors, a leading manufacturer of resilient flooring, will add 315 jobs as part of its first U.S. headquarters and manufacturing facility, a $27 million investment to be located in Murray County.

Dr. Cinnamon Sullivan, an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine, and her colleague Dr. Jeremy Collins, an associate professor of anesthesiology, demonstrate how the four-sided box can be used to perform procedures such as intubating a patient who needs to be placed on a ventilator, and create a protective barrier for health care workers. CONTRIBUTED BY EMORY
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Innovative box developed by local engineers and doctors

Georgia Tech faculty and students, along with Emory University doctors, teamed up to create a device known as an “Emo-Tech box” to protect paramedics and health care workers from contracting the coronavirus from patients.

The box allows medical workers to intubate a patient but still be shielded from any respiratory droplets that might infect. The box has two holes, one for each arm, for the worker to treat a patient. The device is collapsible, so that it’s easier to carry.

Intubating a COVID-19 patient is dangerous for health care workers because it brings them close to a patient’s mouth. Patients sometimes exhale or cough as the tube is inserted.

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Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Michael E. Kanell and Eric Stirgus contributed to this article. 

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