Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the leading medical experts on President Trump’s coronavirus task force, tried to reconcile the controversial order by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp reopening some businesses across the state with the task force recommendations that call for continued social distancing.
Among the businesses that Kemp, a Republican and a strong supporter of President Trump, plans to allow to reopen on Friday are hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors.
“I believe people in Atlanta would understand that if their cases are not going down that they need to continue to do everything that we said — social distancing, washing your hands, wearing a mask in public — so if there’s a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things. I don’t know how, but people are very creative,” Birx said.
The standard for social distancing calls for staying a minimum of 6 feet from anyone who doesn’t live under the same roof.
Kemp on Monday announced that, effective Friday, his state would would end the closing order for nail salons, massage therapists, bowling alleys and gyms. Church services can resume on Sunday and restaurants and movie theaters will be allowed to resume business next Monday. The closing orders went into effect on April 2.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said they thought the move to end the lockdown was premature. As of Tuesday evening, Georgia had nearly 19,000 residents who tested positive for coronavirus.
“I worry that our friends and neighbors in Georgia are going too fast, too soon,” Graham wrote on Twitter.
Bottoms was also caught off guard by the decision.
“I have a great working relationship with our governor but I did not speak with him before he made this announcement,” Bottoms said in a Monday interview with CNN. “So we really are at a loss and I am concerned as a mother and as the mayor of our capital city.”
Trump gave his support to Kemp’s decision.
“He’s a very capable man. He knows what he’s doing. He’s done a very good job as governor,” Trump said of Kemp at the Tuesday White House briefing. Kemp was one of the last governors in the U.S. to issue a stay-at-home order and one of the first to test whether lifting it would result in a spike of new cases of COVID-19.
Birx, who helped write the federal government’s guidelines for easing stay-at-home orders that could restart the nation’s crippled economy, said Tuesday that the ultimate decision will be left to individual governors and mayors.
“I think what I’ve been trying to communicate over the last several days is that it’s really important that the governors and mayors communicate critical information to their communities and show very clearly the data,” Birx said, adding that she was “not going to second judge anyone about their decision making.”
Citing the lack of adequate testing for COVID-19 in Georgia, however, the editorial board of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was willing to judge Kemp’s decision.
“We all look forward to the day we can put this pandemic behind us, but given Georgia’s performance so far, Gov. Brian Kemp is moving too soon and confusing citizens. He is risking a resurgence of the coronavirus in our state,” the paper’s editorial board wrote Monday.
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