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Calling it a “measured, deliberate step forward” to reopen Georgia’s economy, and citing favorable data and testing expansions, Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans Monday to allow some businesses, including restaurants, barber shops and gyms, to resume under stringent social distancing guidelines.
Kemp declared that gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians and their respective schools, and massage therapists can reopen doors on Friday, April 24.
Movie theaters, private social clubs and restaurant dine-in service can resume on Monday, April 27.
Kemp also allowed for elective surgeries that had stopped during the state's shelter-in-place order to resume and encouraged places of worship to resume in-person services.
Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks and live performance venues will remain closed.
“We will get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress that we all have made in this fight against COVID-19,” Kemp said.
Those businesses that do reopen must follow many of the same guidelines that have been in place for essential businesses during the shelter-in-place order, such as screening workers for signs of illness, wearing gloves and masks, maintaining social distancing, increasing disinfection efforts, implementing staggered shifts and utilizing telework when possible.
“If they don’t follow this guidance and adhere to it, they could be putting the lives of their neighbors at risk,” Kemp said.
Feeling pressure from the economic impact of the virus, President Donald Trump unveiled on Thursday, April 16, a three-phased approach for states to reopen their economies called “Opening Up America Again.”
Kemp sent signals over the weekend that he was prepared to unveil steps to reopen sectors of the state’s economy. Kemp said he spoke with other southern governors on Saturday to discuss their approaches to reopening their states’ economies.
Kemp said Georgia is on track to meet the criteria for phase one of the president’s guidelines. Reports of flu-like illnesses are declining, documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and hospital capacity has expanded, Kemp said.
Dr. Katherine Toomey, who leads the Georgia Department of Public Health, said Georgia has “a plateauing and now a decline” of COVID-19, which has infected nearly 19,000 in the state as of noon Monday, April 20, with 733 deaths.
Kemp also unveiled new measures to meet the final criteria for phase one: adequate testing. An app developed by Augusta University will be available this week statewide for those with symptoms of COVID-19 and those on the front lines or in long-term care facilities to get screened and receive an appointment to be tested at a nearby specimen collection site. Results can be accessed through an online patient portal within 72 hours, Kemp said, and a medical provider will contact those who test positive.
“I think this is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp said. “We’re not just throwing the keys back to these businesses.”
The state is also expected to roll out a new app to begin contact tracing, a process to monitor people who come in close contact with someone with COVID-19, which world health officials say is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus.
According to Toomey, a team of epidemiologists are in the final stages of training and making instructional videos for staff and volunteers in all 18 public health districts across the state to participate.
“This is the way we’re going to stop the virus,” Toomey said. “This is the way we’re going to keep the spread from occurring even as we gradually open the state.”