GOP's Brian Kemp will reopen some Georgia businesses this week: "I don't give a damn about politics"

Kemp claimed on April 2 that he had just learned that asymptomatic individuals could spread the new coronavirus

Published April 20, 2020 6:59PM (EDT)

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp  (AP/John Amis)
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (AP/John Amis)

Republican Governor Brian Kemp announced at a Monday press conference that some Georgia businesses would be able to reopen later this week.

"I don't give a damn about politics now," said Kemp, who made the call after the state's health department advised that new cases were flattening.

However, COVID-19 cases continued to climb in the state. There were 18,301 confirmed cases of and 637 deaths as of Monday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.

Kemp said he was focused on people who are "going broke worried about whether they can feed their children and make the mortgage payment."

On the list of businesses allowed to reopen are gyms and bowling alleys, as well as barbers, massage therapists, nail salons, tattoo parlors and the training schools for those professions. Georgia will also reinstate elective surgeries, and churches can resume in-person services as long as worshippers adhere to social distancing guidelines. A statewide shelter-in-place order will expire on April 30.

Kemp clarified that things will not be "business as usual" in Georgia. Social distancing requirements of at least six feet would be strictly enforced, and the state will require employee screening for fevers, mandate gloves and masks, he said.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found that Georgia officials gave hundreds of warnings for violations, but fewer than two dozen citations over the first two weeks of Kemp's stay-at-home order.

Georgians will be allowed to dine-in beginning April 27 at restaurants that meet guidelines his office will release later this week. The same protocol will apply to theaters, but bars and nightclubs will remain closed. "Medically fragile" citizens will still have to shelter-in-place until May 13.

Kemp claimed on April 2 that he had just learned that asymptomatic individuals could spread the new coronavirus — a fact which has been broadcast by health experts since January. He has also reportedly tried to organize an economic reopening bloc with nearby states, though he has not yet disclosed further details. 

The governor vowed Monday not to take a "hodgepodge" approach to reopening, as he had to shutting down, saying local regulations could not be more or less flexible than statewide.

Kemp came under fire for what many officials in his state criticized as a tepid response. His state currently ranks 42nd nationally in terms of tests. Testing capacity is one of the key pieces required for a successful and phased reopening of the economy. 

"The fundamental element of keeping our economy open is making sure you're identifying as many infected people as possible and isolating them," Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in a New York Times interview.

Kemp's announcement came on the same day that Atlanta's MARTA mass-transit system suspended more than 60 bus routes, and Atlanta Public Schools shut down two food distribution centers where workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Georgia will be joined in its pivot this week by Montana and Vermont. The governors of Tennessee and South Carolina have announced that their states will begin opening to nonessential businesses after the April 30 stay-at-home orders expire.

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

MORE FROM Roger Sollenberger

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Brian Kemp Coronavirus Covid-19 Politics Republicans