Georgia Coronavirus Cases Surge as State Lifts Lockdown

The governor has pushed for businesses to reopen and allowed a stay-at-home order to expire despite the growing number of infections and deaths.

An employee gets to-go orders ready as a seated guest enjoys his meal at the Waffle House in Brookhaven, Ga., on Monday. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia public health officials reported over 1,000 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, the same day Republican Governor Brian Kemp lifted the state’s shelter-in-place order for most residents.

The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed a total of 27,437 cases of Covid-19 in the Peach State as of Friday afternoon, compared to 26,175 cases on Thursday. The state has conducted over 168,000 tests.

So far, 1,159 Georgians have died from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Despite the climbing infection rate and death toll, Kemp has continued to encourage businesses to resume operations and allowed the state’s shelter-in-place order to expire for most of Georgia’s 10.6 million residents Friday.

The state’s reopening is at odds with the White House coronavirus task force’s guidelines advising states to emerge from their shutdowns only after observing declining rates in documented cases and a downturn of people reporting Covid-like symptoms within a 14-day period.

Kemp’s decision to allow businesses, including hair and nail salons, gyms, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys, to reopen last week drew criticism from state leaders and elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

Movie theaters and restaurants in Georgia were allowed to open Monday.

Even President Donald Trump, who has encouraged states to reopen as soon as possible to revive the U.S. economy, warned that Georgia was moving too quickly.

In a White House press briefing on April 22, the president said he “strongly disagrees” with the move to reopen Georgia businesses.

“It’s just too soon,” Trump said.

Kemp announced Thursday afternoon that he is extending Georgia’s public health state of emergency and requiring the elderly and “medically fragile” to stay at home until at least June 12.

“The health and well-being of Georgians are my top priorities, and my decisions are based on data and advice from health officials. I will do what is necessary to protect the lives — and livelihoods — of our people,” the governor said in a statement announcing the extension.

In a series of tweets, Kemp confirmed that people with severe heart disease, moderate to severe asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, liver disease or chronic kidney disease are advised to stay home.

“I encourage all Georgians to continue to maintain social distancing, limit their travel, and use best practices,” he tweeted Thursday.

The governor’s new guidelines ban large gatherings of more than 10 people “unless there is at least 6 feet between each person.” Restaurants are ordered to admit no more than 10 customers per 500 square feet.

Kemp has also ordered businesses to follow “minimum basic operations” of safety, saying they should screen workers for fever and respiratory illness, increase sanitation, wear gloves and masks, and practice social distancing.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, criticized Kemp’s decisions in a Thursday op-ed in The Atlantic.

“Reopening the state and relaxing social-distancing measures now is irresponsible and could even be deadly. Our hospitals may not be stretched to capacity, but that does not mean we should work to fill the vacant beds,” Bottoms wrote.

She added, “I strongly believe that our health-care system is not overwhelmed because we have been socially distancing. And while staying at home may be inconvenient for many people, there is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley during a pandemic. We need to continue to do whatever it takes to keep the number of cases from rising.”

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