Restaurants, gyms, hair salons and some other businesses are now allowed to re-open following an announcement from Governor Brian Kemp Monday, April 20.
Kemp allowed gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists to re-open their doors Friday, April 24. Theaters, private social clubs and restaurant dine-in services were allowed to re-open Monday, April 27. Bars are to remain closed.
Kemp’s announcement was in response to President Donald Trump’s “Opening Up America Again” three phased guidelines.
“Informed by the Coronavirus Task Force and public health officials, ‘Opening Up America Again’ includes three phases to safely reopen and get folks back to work,” Kemp said. “To initiate Phase One, a state must meet a series of basic criteria, which can be tailored to reflect specific circumstances for a regional or statewide approach. For weeks now, our state has taken targeted action to prevent, detect, and address the spread of coronavirus by leveraging data and advice from health officials in the public and private sectors. Thanks to this methodical approach and the millions of Georgians who have worked diligently to slow the spread of coronavirus, we are on track to meet the gating criteria for Phase One.”
Phase One recommends that all vulnerable individuals continue to shelter in place, and that those in their household should take precautions to isolate those who are vulnerable.
When in public, individuals should maintain social distancing and should try to avoid settings of more than 10 people if distancing is impractical. They should also avoid non-essential travel and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
Employers should still encourage telework whenever possible, and consider returning to work in phases. Common areas where personnel are likely to congregate should be closed unless social distancing protocols can be enforced.
Trump also suggests employers consider special accommodations for their employees who are members of the vulnerable population.
Schools and organized youth activities that are currently closed should remain closed.
Visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited. Large venues, including sit-down dining, movie theaters sporting venues and places of worship, can operate under strict social distancing protocols.
Phase One also states that elective surgeries can resume if clinically appropriate on an outpatient basis at facilities that adhere to CMD guidelines.
Gyms can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener felt many businesses would choose to re-open, while others may wait a little longer.
“I don’t know that we’ll see all of our businesses open up at the same time,” Whitener said. “I think it’ll phase. You’ll have a few that are going to open this weekend (April 24), I understand some plan to open next weekend and quite a few of them say they’re waiting until the first week in May. Things keep changing daily with this COVID-19. … We are caught in a difficult situation. There’s folks that are not healthy and of course that’s the priority, but then there’s a lot of folks that are financially struggling too, so we’ve got to find a good balance and be able to pull it all back together.”
Local business owner Celeste Lance of Covet Haircrafters was one of many owners that chose to re-open Friday. Her salon had been closed since March 20 due to COVID-19.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for sure, just wondering if you’re keeping the business or what, but all of our clients have been amazing and they bought gift cards, they bought retail, they bought gift cards from other people and stuff through the shut down so we could not have asked for anything better from them,” Lance said.
Lance and other business owners who have chosen to re-open have made efforts to increase sanitation practices and ensure that employees are not exhibiting symptoms before coming into work.
Lit’l Pond Hospitality Group is one of the businesses that have chosen not to re-open their restaurants at this time. Co-Founder Michelle Moran, in a letter to the community, wrote, “We will not be opening next week, despite Governor Kemp’s new provisions. We feel that opening our doors too quickly, without the right measures in place and understanding of what impact increased public activities will have on our community is not something we can accept for ourselves. … We desperately want to put our food on a plate instead of in a box, but it isn’t worth the cost. This has been heartbreaking for us, and we have suffered economic and personal losses, as have so many in our community, but we won’t be a part of adding to that suffering.”
Whitener and Fannin County Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton both reiterated Kemp’s message that the state’s measures would supersede all local ordinances.
“This measure will apply statewide and will be the operational standard in all jurisdictions,” Kemp said. “This means local action cannot be taken that is more or less restrictive.”
The state’s shelter-in-place and suspension of short-term rentals executive orders remain in place until Thursday, April 30 at 11:59 p.m.