Democratic leaders in Georgia are denouncing Gov. Brian Kemp’s plans to begin reopening the state’s economy before the end of the week, claiming they were not adequately informed of his decision and predicting it would endanger the public health.
“I have a great working relationship with our governor, but I did not speak with him before he made this announcement,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Monday, suggesting she was blindsided by Kemp’s announcement.
Bottoms said she contacted Augusta, Georgia, Mayor Hardie Davis, who leads the state’s second-largest city, and reported that he also had not conferred with Kemp about the latest directive. “I’ve spoken with several leaders across this state. So we really are at a loss, and I am concerned as a mother and as the mayor of our capital city,” she said.
“I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way. And again, I can’t stress enough, I work very well with our governor, and I look forward to having a better understanding of what his reasoning is,” Bottoms added. “But as I look at the data and as I talk with our public health officials, I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, Mayor Kelly Girtz said Tuesday those “high-contact environments” are “exactly the kind of places that we need to have maintain closure for the moment,” and told CNN he was urging his constituents not to follow the governor’s advice for reopening.
“I’m exhorting everybody in this community to continue to shelter in place. Do not reopen at this point. It’s not the time to do it,” Girtz said. “It’s like telling the quarterback, ‘We don’t have a helmet for you, we don’t have pads, but get out there on the field and just try not to get sacked.’”
Stacey Abrams, Georgia’s 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, expressed similar frustration toward Kemp, charging Tuesday that he “didn’t consult with mayors” before settling on a schedule for reopening the state.
“The worry is that by trying to push a false opening of the economy, we risk putting more lives in danger, and there’s nothing about this that makes sense,” Abrams told MSNBC.
Kemp also came under fire from one of his fellow governors, Connecticut’s Ned Lamont, who argued that his Georgia counterpart was “potentially throwing some gas on the flames” of the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
“I think I’m glad I’m not an immediate neighbor of Georgia,” Lamont told MSNBC, going on to criticize the types of establishments Kemp was prioritizing reopening.
“When it comes to essential businesses, massage and tattoo parlors are not going to be at the top of our list,” he said. “And how do you have a message and keep your social distance? That’s not the way we do it here. Georgia residents remain under a statewide stay-at-home order Kemp imposed earlier this month, which is set to end on April 30. Federal social-distancing guidance will also expire on that date, although President Donald Trump last week rolled out a series of recommendations for a phased reopening of parts of the country.
The administration’s new guidelines call for states considering reopening to show a downward trajectory of coronavirus cases over a two-week period as well as institute a robust testing program for health care workers. Then, under phase one of the plan, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship and gyms may reopen if they practice social-distancing measures.
In addition to Kemp’s announcement Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said his stay-at-home order would expire on April 30 and businesses across the majority of the state would begin reopening as early as next week.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also relaxed some coronavirus-related restrictions in the state Monday, allowing businesses including bookstores, department stores, flea markets, florists and music shops to reopen. But like Kemp, McMaster faced resistance from the leader of his state’s capital city — Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor Stephen Benjamin.
“The challenge we’re seeing is in places like Florida and Georgia and, yes, even here in South Carolina,” Benjamin told CNN. “There is not that dialogue that is data-focused, rather than these arbitrary dates our governors keep laying out.”