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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has defended his plan to reopen some businesses in his state, including gyms and hair salons, later this week after facing strong backlash for what critics say is a premature and irresponsible action.
THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK, STATE-BY-STATE
“We are taking a measured step,” Kemp told “The Story” Tuesday. “I would urge people to really look at the guidance that we are going to be putting out the rest of the week.”
Kemp announced Monday that certain businesses — including gyms, barbershops and nail salons — could reopen Friday, with restaurants allowed to resume dine-in service April 27.
“This is going to take some common sense. Our people have learned.”
— Gov. Brian Kemp, ‘The Story’
Kemp’s controversial move, which he referred to as “the gateways to the phase one part of the president’s plan” was made in conjunction with public health officials and is based on the data collected in his state, he explained.
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“They support a measured opening, which is what we are doing,” Kemp said. “It’s going to be very limited in scope. Basic operations.”
Kemp expressed concerns about “civil repercussions” and the development of “mental health issues” among business owners if their establishments were to remain shut down indefinitely. He also acknowledged that while he is tasked with finding the right balance between protecting public health and encouraging economic growth in his state, the reopening process will boil down to “measured steps” and will not occur in “a giant leap forward.”
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“We are talking about a few businesses that I closed down to help flatten the curve, which we have done in our state,” he said, “But for us to continue to ask them to do that while they lose everything, quite honestly, there are a lot of civil repercussions of that, mental health issues. We are seeing more patients in our trauma centers in our state.
“People are just tired of it. It’s a tough balance. I understand where folks … may agree or disagree,” Kemp added. “I’ve got some people that are protesting me because I took this step and I may have others that protest because I didn’t go far enough.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms publically opposed Kemp’s decision Tuesday, calling the move “perplexing” and claiming the plan wasn’t based on “anything logical.”
Kemp insisted that he and the mayor “have a great relationship,” despite her “brazen criticism” of his position on the issue.
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“She is working very hard, just like all local elected officials are to protect their population. I am doing the same thing,” he said.
When host Martha MacCallum pressed Kemp on reopening gyms and fitness centers which could be a breeding ground for the virus, the governor said business owners would have to adhere to “strict social guidelines” and cautioned that “this is just not handing them the keys to go back to where we were.”
“You have to give that fitness owner or that owner of the hair salon the ability to be able to be a partner in this fight that we are in,” Kemp said. “They are going to have to follow the strict guidelines. I would tell you that I would imagine there are people in gyms that will be a lot safer than they would be going to the grocery store or some of the other places of business that are part of the critical infrastructure spend designated by the federal level.”
“This is going to take some common sense,” the governor added. “Our people have learned. They have helped us be a solution to the problem of flattening the curve and start getting to the other side of it.”
Kemp said his state is “having record vacancies in our hospitals right now because we were getting ready for the surge. They are bleeding money, and they need help as well as our local business owners.”
As of Tuesday night, the Georgia Department of Public Health had confirmed 20,166 coronavirus cases and 818 deaths. Most of the cases are clustered around the Atlanta area, with the southwestern city of Albany constituting another hotspot.
Despite the opposition, Kemp said he is confident residents of his state will “behave themselves” and urged fitness centers to “spread people [out] when they are doing workouts.”
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“We’ll be putting those guidelines out. If people don’t want to go, they don’t have to go. If people don’t want to open the gym, they don’t have to. But when you close somebody’s business down and take [the] livelihood of that individual and those employees and they are literally at the base of losing everything, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
“I think they’re going to do the right thing.”