Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday that gyms, hair salons, and other businesses can reopen Friday in Georgia — one of several states easing restrictions over the next two weeks after being shut down to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Citing increased testing and the approval of health officials, Kemp said gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbershops, hair salons, and other beauty parlors can resume operations as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines and meet other safety standards. Dine-in restaurants, theaters, and private social clubs will be allowed to reopen starting Monday.
"I see the terrible impact of COVID-19 on public health as well as the pocketbook," Kemp said during a press briefing.
Still, he said that it will not be "business as usual" for those businesses that are allowed to resume operations in the coming days. Employers will have to screen workers for fever and respiratory symptoms, increase sanitation, separate workstations by at least 6 feet, and, "if appropriate," require staff to wear gloves and masks, Kemp said.
He added that bars, nightclubs, amusement parks, and live performance venues will remain closed, though state officials will continue to evaluate case data and confer with public health experts to determine the best plan for those establishments.
"By taking this measured action, we will get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress that we have all made in the battle against COVID-19," Kemp said.
The decision comes days after President Trump unveiled guidelines for how states can start to reopen in phases, provided testing shows that new cases of COVID-19 are down. In addition to Georgia, the governors of Texas, Tennessee, and South Carolina have also announced plans to allow some businesses to open their doors in the next couple weeks.
On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said he would not be extending the state's stay-at-home order, which expires April 30, and that some businesses will be allowed to open as early as next Monday. The vast majority of businesses in 89 counties will be permitted to resume operations on May 1, Lee said.
"For the good of our state, social distancing must continue, but our economic shutdown cannot," Lee said.
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order to reopen public beaches and allow some retail businesses — such as furniture stores, florists, flea markets, and department stores — to reopen beginning Monday as long as they follow social distancing measures that include limiting the number of customers inside to five people per 1,000 square feet of retail space.
And last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced plans to allow some retail businesses to reopen this Friday, though he said schools would stay closed for the rest of the academic year.
"We have demonstrated that we can corral the coronavirus," Abbott said, according to the Texas Tribune.
But even as the governors said they were following the White House criteria in making their decision to proceed with a phased-reopening of the economy, few states are actually seeing a declining trajectory of new cases of COVID-19, even though social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have helped flatten the curve.
Under the president's guidelines, states should also see a decline in reports of symptoms that might represent undiagnosed COVID-19 for 14 days, and hospitals should have enough capacity to handle cases without operating in crisis mode as well as a “robust testing program” for health care workers.
In Georgia, other leaders questioned Kemp’s decision to reopen some businesses, saying it could result in more cases of the disease.
"I am extremely concerned about the announcement the governor made,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an interview with ABC News. “I hope that he's right and I'm wrong because if he's wrong then more people will die."
Stacey Abrams, a former state representative who ran against Kemp for governor in 2018 as the Democratic nominee, called the decision to reopen "dangerously incompetent" on Twitter.
Still, governors said the data they are seeing is encouraging and that they were on track to meet the criteria to begin reopening their states.
"For 17 consecutive days in Tennessee, we have seen only single-digit percentage increases in the number of cases in our state," Lee said.
He added that the state's hospitalization rate has consistently been lower than national averages, and as of Monday, the number of people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Tennessee was higher than the number of active cases.
"It’s a very encouraging slow to the movement of the virus across our state," Lee said.
Even as some parts of these states begin to resume operations, officials said it will remain critical that residents continue to follow social distancing protocols — even though they may no longer be required to stay home all the time.
"The mandate to stay apart — the personal mandate — it will be lifted as a mandate, but it will not be lifted as something that is necessary," Lee said.