Local officials are glad Gov. Brian Kemp is following the phased approach recommended by the federal government in lifting restrictions and businesses and activities imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19, but they do not all agree with the first step he announced on Monday.
During a press conference, Kemp announced that restrictions imposed on businesses would be lifted over the next two weeks.
Gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools and massage therapists will be allowed to reopen. Bars and nightclubs will remain closed.
Businesses will have to adhere to the same requirements as other non-essential businesses — enforce a six-foot distance between customers, increase sanitation practices, regularly check employees for COVID-19 symptoms and allow employees to work from home when possible, among other things.
Restaurants will be given a set of tailored rules to abide by, but those had not been released as of Tuesday.
The governor’s shelter-in-place order expires on April 30 and the public health emergency order expires in full on May 13, assuming Kemp takes no action to extend either.
Glynn County Commission Vice Chairman Bill Brunson said the governor is undoubtedly under a lot of pressure to do something, as many businesses may not be able to recover if the restrictions in place continue much longer.
“We just need to support it and abide by it,” Brunson said.
While he didn’t necessarily get behind the decision to reopen things like massage parlors and nail salons, he said opening restaurants, even to a limited degree, will help.
“I didn’t understand the tattoo parlors and nail salons and fitness centers and bowling alleys,” Brunson said. “In some cases, people are literally touching one another.
“But I’m glad he’s allowing the restaurants to open up and I’m sure there’s going to be very strict guidelines in the upcoming days. I’ve heard some say anything is better than being closed.
“I think they’re going to respect the guidelines. They got two challenges — to make sure their employees will be safe and to make sure their customers are safe.”
More than anything, Brunson said it will be a psychological boost that may help those struggling mentally.
“At lease to see some progress toward getting back to some normalcy, I think that’s very important,” Brunson said.
Commissioner Peter Murphy, a retired heart surgeon, said he was not as close to the issue as the governor but expressed the same reservations as Brunson.
“I think the time has come, particularly in Glynn County with our low caseload over the past six to eight weeks, to start reopening our county and our economy,” Murphy said. “I’m not sure I would have started with the gyms, the bowling alleys and the tattoo parlors and nail salons, but that’s not our call.”
The decision to lift restrictions had to be made eventually, said Brunswick Mayor Cornell Harvey.
“I’m hoping that people don’t all of a sudden think that everything is open and going back to business as usual because it really isn’t,” Harvey said.
The public has to be careful to avoid burdening the local hospital and other medical facilities with a surge of new cases, he said.
“A lot of people think it isn’t real, but it is,” Harvey said. “When it hits home, you realize what it can do.”
He will be involved in a conference call today with Kemp and other Georgia mayors who will, among other things, ask the governor to allow local governments to issue their own restrictions in response to the outbreak.
He could not think of anything, in particular, the city would do differently from the governor’s actions, however.
In the meantime, all three warned the public to continue to practice good hygiene and social distancing.
“We’ll have to be vigilant and be careful,” Brunson said.
Health officials ask residents to wash their hands regularly with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if necessary, avoid touching the face, clean frequently touched surfaces, cover coughs and sneezes, immediately throw away used tissues and stay home if feeling sick.