Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp did not say Monday whether the mandatory statewide shelter-in-place order due to the coronavirus pandemic would be lifted Thursday — the day it is set to expire — even as another round of business re-openings began Monday under an order he issued last week.
“I haven’t made those decisions yet,” Kemp said during a press conference at the state Capitol in Atlanta. “We’ll probably have a better idea in a day or two.”
Kemp also urged Georgia’s elderly and “medically fragile” residents to continue to shelter in place through at least May 13, the date the statewide public health emergency declaration is set to expire.
“We really have to watch the data hard over the next two weeks,” Kemp said when asked when that advisory to residents might be lifted.
Over the past few days, Georgia has seen businesses that had been closed since the statewide shelter-in-place order went into effect April 3 — and even before then in many local jurisdictions — reopen as the state tries to jumpstart an economy that has been decimated over the past month.
On Friday, gyms, fitness centers, grooming salons, bowling alleys and similar facilities were allowed to reopen. And on Monday, movie theaters were allowed to reopen and restaurants were allowed to resume dine-in services, provided that a long list of requirements and guidelines were met and followed.
KEMP DEFENDS ACTIONS
Since announcing the easing of restrictions on April 20, Kemp has faced widespread criticism from public health experts, mayors around the state and politicians from both political parties, including President Trump, who blasted the governor on consecutive days last week at White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings.
But Kemp defended his moves again Monday, saying they were driven by data suggesting the state has already seen the worst of the virus and that they were made in the interest of many Georgians’ livelihoods.
“We cannot continue this way economically,” he said. “We are looking at Depression-like unemployment. We are facing hardships to feed everybody. Six to eight weeks ago, we had the best economy we’ve ever had in Georgia. It’s all tumbled off a cliff. We will come back and we will come back stronger.”
Kemp also sought to downplay the differences between him and Trump on the reopening decision and accused the media of wanting to “divide us during this period,” though he would not say which media outlets when asked.
“Rest assured, the president and I share a common goal and that’s to protect both the lives and livelihoods of Georgians and the American people,” Kemp said, adding he had “another great call” Monday with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, administration officials and other governors. “We appreciate the president’s leadership during these difficult times.”
DPH COMMISSIONER ‘STILL HEEDING THE WARNINGS’
Public health experts, including the ones on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, have warned that reopening too soon would trigger another spike in infections and deaths.
Kemp said a boost in the state’s testing capacity and a resulting relaxation of the testing criteria, along with an increase in hospital capacity, have made the state more prepared for any future spikes and able to isolate cases more quickly.
“We have the bandwidth. We just need more Georgians to participate” in the testing, Kemp said.
All symptomatic people in Georgia are now eligible to be tested, and all health care workers, first responders and other medically-vulnerable people are allowed to be tested, whether they are symptomatic or not.
However, despite a substantial increase in testing, the state still ranks just 36th in the nation in testing per capita, Kemp said. And there is not yet readily-available testing for all asymptomatic people, at a time in which the CDC has said up to 25 percent of people with the virus may never show any symptoms but can still transmit it to others.
Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, said Georgia had not met all of the Trump administration’s requirements for a “phase 1” reopening but that it had met enough for officials to feel comfortable moving forward. She added that the state was “approaching” a plateau in coronavirus cases.
Still, Toomey said she was “still heeding the warnings” by refusing to get haircut or go to other businesses that have just reopened.
Reports around the state indicate that some businesses have reopened while others have chosen not to just yet, a move Kemp said he supports “100 percent.” He also said he was encouraged by the fact that there were very few complaints to the Georgia State Patrol over the weekend about noncompliance.
“I think we’re better off trusting (the business owners),” Kemp said. “I didn’t order anybody to open their business or go patronize these businesses. I simply gave them that opportunity.
“Many of these people were on the verge of losing everything they’ve got.”