CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (CN) — Weeks after issuing orders to close businesses and keep residents at home during the coronavirus outbreak, governors in Tennessee and Georgia announced Monday they were taking tentative steps to reopen their economies.
“Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it,” Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, said in a statement.
Lee said he would allow his executive order that required the state’s residents to stay home to expire on April 30, opening up 89 of the state’s 95 counties.
The governor initially signed his order mandating Tennesseans stay home on April 2 after he saw cellphone data showing an increased amount of travel over the state. As of Monday, about 7,200 Tennesseans had tested positive for the coronavirus and 152 had died, but the Lee pointed to low hospitalization rates and a slow percentage spread of the virus that causes the respiratory disease Covid-19.
The move will not apply to counties that are home to the state’s largest cities, such as Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Lee said the state will work with those countries to help plan their reopening strategies.
In a Facebook livestream Monday evening, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke acknowledged the anti-lockdown protests around the country — even within his own city. He said Chattanooga expanded its testing to residents without symptoms last week but the “right thing for us” is to keep the stay-at-home order in place for Hamilton County.
“I’m reluctant always to use government power but I also understand that thing that if we don’t keep people safe, that there can be drastic health consequences,” Berke said.
In an outdoor press conference Monday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he was following guidelines set by the White House and taking some initial steps to open the state’s economy.
Citing rotting crops, plummeting sales and a flattened Covid-19 infection curve, the Republican governor announced that in the coming days, health care providers could start performing elective surgeries and massage therapists, tattoo artists and hair salons could reopen their doors Friday, which will allow them to keep up “baseline operations” like other businesses have.
“This measure will apply statewide and will be the operational standard in all jurisdictions. This means local action cannot be taken that is more or less restrictive,” Kemp said.
Restaurants could follow next week, and churches and places of worship could soon open their doors provided they could comply with social distancing protocols.
The steps towards reopening, Kemp said, come with an increased focus on testing.
“Testing defines the battlefield and informs our long-term strategy,” Kemp said.
While some business is returning in the Peach State, the shelter-in place order Kemp issued April 2 remains in place this week and will expire April 30. Georgians who are “medically fragile” were told to continue to shelter in place until May 13.
Live performances and bars in Georgia, though, remain closed.
Kemp’s announcement comes as the state has almost 19,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. The state has seen 3,550 hospitalizations and 733 deaths.
Shortly after Kemp’s announcement, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms took steps to convene an advisory council to reopen the city at the heart of the Georgia county with the most cases.
The council, according to the mayor’s office, would include representatives from the area’s film and entertainment industry.
“Reopening the city must be executed in a cautious manner that is best suited for Atlanta,” Bottoms said in a statement.
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