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Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.
Photo: Ron Harris (AP)

The state of Georgia is moving ahead with a plan to re-open businesses shut down during the coronavirus pandemic as soon as this Friday, April 24, Republican Governor Brian Kemp announced on Monday.

Kemp said that fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, hair and nail salons, and massage therapists may open their doors on that date, according to CNN, while theaters and restaurants will be able to re-open as soon as the following Monday, April 27. The governor also said that his order will preempt all other restrictions in place by local governments, telling the public, “In the same way that we carefully closed businesses and urged operations to end to mitigate the virus’ spread, today we’re announcing plans to incrementally and safely reopen sectors of our economy.” Bars and nightclubs will remain closed. Businesses that reopen must keep to social distancing requirements and may be required to have employees wear masks and gloves, among other rules.

The GOP governors decision follows Donald Trump’s decision to implement new federal social distancing guidelines that punt more control to governors—as well as days of protests organized by conservative groups, some toting firearms and spurred on by activists tied to the gun lobby, in states across the country. Republican allies of the White House have increasingly fallen in line with a narrative that the shutdowns are not necessary to protect the U.S. public from the coronavirus and are only in place due to hysteria fueled by liberals and the media; the Trump administration also views relaxing restrictions on business as a politically popular move that could re-energize the president’s re-election chances.

Confirmed cases of the coronavirus now stand at nearly 790,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine tracker, with over 42,000 deaths. Social distancing measures in place have significantly slowed the spread of the virus, but public health experts have warned that relaxing them could rapidly undo that progress.

As CNN noted, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation models regularly cited by the White House state that the number of daily deaths in Georgia reached a projected peak on April 7. But the same model predicts dozens will die every day in the state for weeks and that restrictions shouldn’t be eased until at least June 15 to prevent another wave of outbreaks, which would presumably also be extremely bad for the economy.

Per Vox, a recent study by researchers in Hong Kong in collaboration with the World Health Organization found that social distancing appears to be extremely effective, while another by economists at the University of Chicago and Penn State found that lockdowns should be eased gradually over a period of months and that the ideal timeline grew significantly longer assuming a higher “value of the statistical life.” (To put it another way, the ideal duration of economic shutdowns hinges directly on the public’s tolerance for people dying.)

Separate research by scientists at Harvard found that in order for hospitals to avoid passing their critical care capacity, intermittent social distancing policies may need to last into 2022. Interviews with over 20 experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology, and medical history by New York Times found a broad consensus that the rest of 2020 will be plagued by cycles of re-openings and renewed lockdowns when more coronavirus cases emerge.

The mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, told ABC News, “I’m not sure what data the governor is referencing in helping him make this decision,” but that she is still asking city residents to stay home.

“What I know is that when I look at the data that we receive from our public health department each day, our numbers are going up,” Lance Bottoms told CNN in a separate interview. “… We really are at a loss, and I am concerned as a mother and as the mayor of our capitol city.”

Stacey Abrams, former state representative and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, tweeted that as the state already had the 14th highest infection rate and seventh lowest testing rate, Kemp’s order was “dangerously incompetent.”

According to CNN, Kemp himself acknowledged that re-opening businesses would result in more cases but insisted that the state was prepared.

“Now, I will say that, you know, we have more people moving around, we’re probably going to have to see our cases continue to go up, but we’re a lot better prepared for that now than we were over a month ago,” Kemp said. “We have the hospital bed capacity. We have the community knowledge. We have a lot of things in place now… If we have an instance where a community starts becoming a hot spot, then, you know, I will take further action.”

Kemp responded to a question about the political implications of the order by saying “I don’t give a damn about politics right now,” CNN wrote.

According to the New York Times, Republican Governors Bill Lee of Tennessee and Mike DeWine of Ohio have both signaled that they plan to allow the vast majority of shuttered businesses to reopen on May 1. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, also a Republican, will allow some retail outlets as well as beaches to reopen as soon as Tuesday.

“By taking this measured action, we will get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress that we have all made in the battle against COVID-19,” Kemp told reporters.

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