Digital editor Myrydd Wells (pronounced "merith") joined the Atlanta magazine staff as digital producer in late 2013. Previously she worked as a copy editor and page designer for the Naples Daily News in Florida and in her hometown of Indianapolis as an intern and later contributing editor for Indianapolis Monthly magazine. A proud alumna of Indiana University Bloomington, she enjoys writing about pop culture, television, local events, animals, internet sensations, and anything else offbeat.
On Friday, the governor defended his decision to focus on the state economy and the flight path for the Blue Angels flight was released. Here’s your Saturday morning update:
• As of publication time, there have been 28,005 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. 1,170 people have died. 168,367 tests have been conducted. 5,340 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• The Blue Angels and Thunderbirds will fly over Atlanta today as a tribute to first responders. The flyover is expected to begin at 1:35 p.m. and last about 25 minutes. The flight path starts in Marietta, goes through Midtown and up into Brookhaven, Sandy Springs, Roswell, and East Cobb, heading back downtown, through East Point and College Park, down through Peachtree City, and ending outside Newnan. See the map here. [WSB-TV]
• Governor Brian Kemp gave nearly a half-hour video interview to GPB News, standing by his decision to shift his focus to Georgia’s economy. He’s asking state agencies to brace for a “brutal budget environment,” with 14 percent budget cuts. He also discussed what Georgians should be doing with the shelter-in-place lifted (including wearing masks), the likelihood of teacher pay raises, his decision to re-open businesses, and testing. Watch the full interview here. [GPB]
• The AJC‘s editorial board is siding with many public health experts—it’s just too early to re-open the state. The op-ed points out that in Colorado, counties and cities have the ability to set their own restrictions if not yet ready to re-open, and also points to other states with fewer cases that are not yet lifting shelter-in-place restrictions. It also, as it has in previous editorials, discusses Ohio, a state which has a million more people than Georgia but thanks to enforcing its shelter-in-place policy faster (one that won’t expire until May 12), it has 7,400 fewer cases and 146 fewer deaths. “There will be time to focus on economic recovery. Now is not that time,” the board writes. [AJC]
• The Georgia Department of Public Health, along with the governor, are urging Georgians to wear masks when they go out in public. By the way, have you seen those viral graphics on Facebook that show if both a healthy person and COVID-19 carrier wear masks, their risk rate goes down to about 1.5 percent? 11 Alive checked with the CDC—there haven’t been many studies done on cloth masks, so the CDC couldn’t confirm them, and the numbers in the graphics are similar a study on N95 masks. So, those incredible statistics are inaccurate, but the messaging behind the graphic is correct—masks are meant to protect people, primarily to protect asymptomatic carriers from unknowingly transmitting the disease. The more people participate, the more likely we’ll be to prevent infection and protect ourselves. [WSB-TV/11 Alive]
• Duluth, Lawrenceville, and Swanee will not host any large-scale public events through July 10, which means a halt on any July 4 celebrations. [WSB-TV]
• Atlanta United players will soon be able to train by themselves at the team’s facilities on the outdoor fields. Group practice is still banned through mid-May. [AJC]
On Thursday, the Governor announced he would not extend the shelter-in-place order except for the elderly and for those with underlying conditions. Here’s your Friday morning update:
• As of publication time, there have been 26,968 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. 1,138 people have died. 164,465 tests have been conducted. 5,208 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• Yesterday, Governor Brian Kemp announced he would only extend the statewide shelter-in-place order, which expired at midnight Friday, for those over 65 years old and those who have underlying conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19—they are instructed to continue sheltering in place through June 12. He also renewed the Public Health State of Emergency through June 12. The governor was among the last nationwide to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order and has been re-opening Georgia much faster than other states.
But while the order has been lifted for many Georgians, this is not an immediate return to the world before the pandemic. “I encourage all Georgians to continue to maintain social distancing, limit their travel, and use best practices,” Kemp tweeted. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned unless six feet of space can be kept between people at all times (and restaurants can have no more than 10 people per 500 square feet). Businesses that previously opened have to continue following the safety guidelines outlined in last week’s executive order, and bars and nightclubs, public pools, amusement parks, and live performance venues must remain closed through at least May 13.
Kemp told the AJC that it was time to focus on economic recovery. But public health experts have warned that easing up restrictions too quickly can once again leave people vulnerable to the public. One more interesting note from the AJC‘s interview: Governor Kemp has not eaten at a restaurant since dine-in service resumed or gone to get a haircut—“he let one of his daughters handle the barbering,” the paper says. [AJC]
As for the need for everyone to continue social distancing, let’s move on to the next bullet point:
• A CDC study published Thursday recommended continuing social distancing for everyone, not just the elderly and those with medical conditions. Of the 305 Atlanta patients studied, one in four did not have a condition that made them high-risk for COVID-19, and 83 percent of the patients were black, a proportion that was “higher than expected based on overall hospital admissions.” The study says, “Given the overrepresentation of black patients within this hospitalized cohort, it is important for public health officials to ensure that prevention activities prioritize communities and racial/ethnic groups most affected by COVID-19.” Another important note from the study: “Approximately one quarter of patients had no high-risk conditions, and 5% of these patients died, suggesting that all adults, regardless of underlying conditions or age, are at risk for serious COVID-19–associated illness.” So please continue social distancing, washing your hands, wearing masks, and taking this virus seriously. [CDC]
• A Georgia Tech study projected that the state reduced its COVID-19 transmission rate by 50 percent through the shutdown and shelter-in-place methods. However, as WABE reports, “If Georgians return to ‘business as usual,’ the state could see an additional 25,000 coronavirus-related fatalities by the end of June.” Continuing “strict social distancing” will see far fewer deaths—2,000-2,500, the study predicts. The study also said that there are could be five to 10 unreported COVID-19 cases for every confirmed case. That’s about 250,000 people, which is less than 2 percent of Georgians, but that means 98 percent of Georgians are still susceptible to the disease. [WABE]
• As the governor announced his plans for the expiring shelter-in-place order, a group called the Georgia Coalition 2 Save Lives held a mock funeral procession outside the Gold Dome, protesting Kemp’s decision not to extend the order for everyone. The procession, which started at Carl Williams Funeral Home in Castleberry Hill and traveled past the capitol and Grady hospital, included cars that were decorated in protest signs and hearses. [11 Alive]
• FiveThirtyEight took a look at Georgia’s re-opening decision and asked infectious disease experts to predict our coronavirus caseload in the next few weeks. “The consensus forecast of 1,044 new confirmed cases per day in two weeks suggests that Georgia will see a substantial worsening of the virus’s spread as a result of reopening,” the article says. (Last week, the 7-day average was in the 600-700 range.) “The daily number of new confirmed cases is forecast to be somewhere between 579 and 2,292, with six experts indicating that an increase to 2,000 or more new cases a day is plausible” Had the state not relaxed social distancing measures, the experts concluded, “Georgia would have seen only 487 new cases per day for the week ending on May 16, a reduction of more than 50 percent in new daily cases compared with the estimates in the open regime.” [FiveThirtyEight]
• The Peachtree Road Race has been moved from July 4 to Thanksgiving Day (November 26). Registered runners have several options with the new date—beyond running the race, they can opt to participate “virtually” on Thanksgiving (running from wherever they’d like rather than the official race course), transfer their number to someone else, move their registration to 2021, donate their race fee to Atlanta Track Club, or request a refund. The move also means the club’s traditional Thanksgiving half-marathon and 5k are cancelled. A full FAQ can be found here. [Atlanta Track Club]
• Georgia’s Department of Labor processed 266,565 claims last week, fewer than weeks prior, but 1.4 million claims have been processed since mid-March, amounting to 28 percent of workers in the state. [AJC]
• Mall update: After previously announcing they’d open today, Simon Property Group will keep its malls, which include Lenox Square, Phipps Plaza, and Mall of Georgia, closed until Monday, with the exception of Calhoun and North Georgia outlets, which open today. As for the metro area’s other malls: Perimeter, North Point, and Cumberland malls are set to re-open Tuesday. Arbor Place Mall, Southlake Mall, Forum on Peachtree Parkway, Outlet Shoppes of Atlanta, and Avenues at West Cobb, East Cobb, and Peachtree City will all re-open today. [AJC]
• The restaurant portion of Johnny’s Hideaway is now open for dine-in, even as the famous dancefloor remains closed. Johnny’s will now be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. [Eater Atlanta]
• Remember Chick-fil-A meal kits? The Atlanta-based chain tested meal kits here for several months back in 2018 before they disappeared. However, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the chain announced it will begin selling the chicken Parmesan kit nationwide beginning May 4. [11 Alive]
This story was updated to reflect Atlanta malls changing their re-opening plans.
On Wednesday, more testing sites opened, and the fact that Georgia teens can skip their road tests made national news. Here’s your Thursday morning update:
• As of publication time, there are now 25,897 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. 1,101 people have died. 143,790 tests have been conducted. 5,091 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• Have you been confused by the many numbers and charts distributed by the Georgia Department of Public Health? You’re not alone. When Georgia DPH re-vamped its coronavirus dashboard on Monday (the one linked in the bullet point above), it removed a lot of previously available data such as a daily count of completed tests, and a lot of data in the new dashboard “is published in a format that makes it difficult for researchers to use,” according to the AJC. And while there are now important disclaimers on the data and an FAQ to help explain what it all means, some statistics are still not what they may appear to be for a casual reader. For example, on the “hospitalization” figure above, the AJC clarifies, “That figure is not the number of people currently hospitalized in Georgia for the novel coronavirus. It’s the number of Georgians who happened to be hospitalized when they were tested.” So if you are hospitalized post-testing, you don’t appear in that count. (Likewise, we’ve adjusted our wording that data accordingly.) Ultimately, all this confusion lead can lead to distrust among Georgians, and trust is a critical need in a pandemic. [AJC]
• The Fulton County Board of Health is hosting a “neighborhood testing site,” currently stationed at the McGhee Tennis Center in Southwest Atlanta. The walk-up only site is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is designed for nearby residents who do not have access to a car. The test site will likely move to a new location on Friday. [Fox 5]
• The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and CORE Response, an LA-based nonprofit, will begin offering coronavirus tests—both drive-thru and walk-up—at the Home Depot Backyard, the tailgating lot adjacent to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Head to this website to see if you qualify ad schedule an appointment. [AJC]
• 388 poultry workers in Georgia—one of the state’s largest industries—have tested positive for COVID-19 and one person has died. The number accounts for 2 percent of the the state’s poultry plant employees. Virus outbreaks have been an issue in meatpacking plants across the country. The infection rate has also spiked in Hall County, which is home to a lot of the state’s poultry industry. [AJC]
• Under Governor Kemp’s executive order, the Georgia Department of Driver Services is allowing teenagers (or anyone applying for a driver’s license) to skip the road test due to social distancing concerns. Instead, WSB-TV says, they have to submit affidavits that says they’ve had 40 hours of driver training from a parent or instructor. (If that thought makes you anxious, Georgia DDS Commissioner Spencer Moore told WSB-TV that most teens who have that much drive time pass their road test on the first try.)
I say this with the utmost respect. The streets of Georgia are dangerous enough. I saw more auto accidents in Atlanta than anywhere else. Truly unreal. It’s like grand theft auto. I’m not kidding. They should be pressing for harder tests, not NO tests!! https://t.co/H83X3SBXwR
• The Atlantic staff writer Amanda Mull took an in-depth look at Governor Kemp’s decision to allow several Georgia businesses to re-open last week. Mull spoke with business owners across the state who were both choosing to stay closed and those who opened doors, and no one was cavalier about their choice. “In the grips of a pandemic, the approach is a morbid experiment in just how far states can push their people,” Mull writes. “Georgians are now the largely unwilling canaries in an invisible coal mine, sent to find out just how many individuals need to lose their job or their life for a state to work through a plague.” [The Atlantic]
• Writer and epidemiologist Keren Landman, who is also an Atlanta contributor, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about Georgia’s place as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. She outlines lessons that other states can learn from the decision to re-open so early, and writes, “Somehow, we’ve reached the point where caring about public health has become a progressive issue, while the nation’s economy has become a conservative one. This division is false; no one should have to choose between financial annihilation and helping to spread a deadly disease. But thanks to unforgivable failures of political leadership, business owners in Georgia are bearing the burden of that choice—and the same will happen in every state that follows our lead.” [NYT]
What a strange situation: a state executive telling his constituents to go out and enjoy their freedom, and so many constituents saying, in effect, We’d prefer not to. But somebody’s got to play the grown-up. Business owners aren’t paid to manage pandemics, yet in this gaping maw of leadership they’re forced into tortured decisions: risk the health of their own employees by opening up, or staying safe and staying closed? Is your business more important than your employees’ lives? Their workers—the customer-facing employees often working for low wages and no health insurance—are the true subjects of Kemp’s experiment, and it’s grotesque that they’re having to rely on nothing more than good wishes from the governor and the magnanimity of their bosses.
• The Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC are beginning random antibody testing in Fulton and DeKalb county. Through May 4, workers are vising randomly selected homes and asking the residents questions about their recent health and for a blood sample that will be used in a COVID-19 antibody test. Antibodies determine if someone previously had COVID-19. Says the CDC, “The results of these studies will allow us to estimate how many people have been infected nationally. The results will also provide information about the percentage of U.S. residents who have not had COVID-19 and are still at risk for infection.” Participation in the program is completely voluntary. [Georgia DPH]
• Mall chain Simon Property Group, which owns Lenox Square among other metro area malls, said in an internal corporate memo it would begin re-opening 49 of its malls (with limited hours) as early as Friday. (Lenox GM Robin Suggs confirmed to the AJC that the mall and other Simon malls in metro Atlanta—Mall of Georgia, North Georgia Premium Outlets, Phipps Plaza, Sugarloaf Mills, and Town Center at Cobb—would open Friday.) The memo said malls would provide temperature testing, as well as masks and hand sanitizer for shoppers upon request. Employees would be required to wear masks. Even if the malls themselves re-open, individual retailers have their own policies, so it’s not clear how many stores would be open right away. Beyond the Simon properties, the AJC also reports that Greenbriar Mall will re-open Friday, as will Arbor Place in Douglasville. Ponce City Market reportedly plans to open in mid-May. [CNBC/AJC]
• The CDC is extending its social distancing guidelines to include pets. Pet owners are advised to keep their animals away from other pets and people who do not live in their household and are advised to avoid their pets if they become sick. [11 Alive]
• The University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs conducted an online poll with 1,233 registered Georgia voters to gauge their reactions to the state’s coronavirus response. Half of the respondents support the shelter-in-place order, with another 25 percent somewhat supporting it. 62 percent disagreed with Governor Kemp’s decision to re-open businesses this past week. 44 percent said that the state’s actions to contain the virus were appropriate, 41 percent say not enough action has been taken, and 15 percent say the state has gone too far. [AJC]
• Jenna Cao, owner of Chateau de Nails in Alpharetta, penned an op-ed for the New York Times on her decision to re-open her nail salon. “To be clear, I’m still scared. But I have decided to open with limited, reservation-only hours, approving appointments only with clientele that my staff personally know and trust,” Cao wrote, saying that she and her staff were going “above and beyond” the safety guidelines required by the state. “I don’t blame other shop owners who are waiting to see how this partial reopening goes before opening themselves. But I’m one of many Georgians easing back into work because we know that if we don’t our business might not come back and our staff would probably go broke. I’ve been having nightmares about it.” [New York Times]
• Brookhaven’s mayor signed an executive order that will allow restaurants to set up tents in parking lots for the next 90 days to provide temporary outdoor seating. [AJC]
• The Atlanta Jazz Festival, originally planned to occur on Memorial Day weekend, has been indefinitely postponed. [AJF]
• The New Yorker magazine posted a video of what life in Atlanta has looked like under the shelter-in-place order. [New Yorker]
On Monday, Georgia DPH revamped its coronavirus data dashboard and restaurants began opening dining rooms. Here’s your Tuesday morning update:
• As of publication time, there are now 24,447 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. 996 people have died. 4,752 have been hospitalized. 127,169 tests have been conducted. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• The state has revamped its official data reporting website with a much more user-friendly and easier-to-read layout. Data will also now be updated throughout the day, with the exception of the number of total tests, which will continue to be updated twice daily. There are also new charts and descriptions explaining the data collection for those charts. For example, one chart shows the state’s COVID-19 cases tracked over time. It includes new cases plotted daily and a 7-day moving average, which does show new cases appearing to begin a downward trend. However, these numbers aren’t yet confirmed—the chart’s disclaimer notes “confirmed cases over the last 14 days accounted for due to illnesses yet to be reported or test results may still be pending . . . Data during the reporting period may be incomplete due to the lag in time between when the case was tested and/or reported and submitted to the Georgia DPH for reporting purposes.” Low testing also impacts data accuracy.
• At a press conference Monday afternoon, state public health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said the state’s coronavirus data did not meet the “full gating criteria” for beginning phase one of the federal plan, but did say the data was reaching a plateau and that the decision to re-open Georgia was based on more than just data. She and Governor Brian Kemp also urged Georgians with coronavirus symptoms to get tested for COVID-19, stressing efforts to ramp up testing. [AJC]
• Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared on The Daily Social Distancing Show last night—a.k.a the filmed-at-home version of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Bottoms reiterated her disagreement with Governor Brian Kemp on re-opening Georgia. “Bowling alleys, movie theaters, there’s nothing essential about those businesses,” Bottoms said. “I understand there’s a huge economic strain on so many business owners, and that’s very real, but we’re balancing that and life, literally.” Bottoms pointed out that in communities of color, already shown to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, there are barbershops or hair salons “on every single corner,” and cited an article that said Southern states will be hit especially hard due to poverty and underlying health conditions. “We will know in the next two to four weeks if this social-slash-health experiment was a brilliant idea or if it was the absolute worst thing that could have happened,” Bottoms said.
• Despite controversy over whether it was too soon to begin dine-in service at restaurants, some in metro Atlanta, including Waffle House, did open their doors and begin serving customers. According to the AJC, C&S Seafood & Oyster Bar in Vinings had 40 dinner reservations, while Roswell’s 1920 Tavern was “fully booked for dinner service.” Restaurants have to follow a set of nearly 40 safety guidelines under the governor’s executive order. Meanwhile, more than 50 restaurant owners from Atlanta and Savannah, collectively calling themselves #GAHospitalityTogether, are taking out a full-page ad in today’s AJC that explains why their restaurants will stay closed for now. Among those restaurants: Antico, Brick Store Pub, Ticonderoga Club, Staplehouse, Lazy Betty, Rumi’s Kitchen, Taqueria del Sol, and many more. [AJC 1/AJC 2]
Under the #GAHospitalityTogether banner, owners of more than 50 restaurants took out an @ajc ad to explain why they aren’t reopening. “Recognizing that each operator faces incredibly difficult decisions on the path ahead, we affirm the fact that public safety is the top priority” pic.twitter.com/IampvHMFxl
• In Alpharetta, Avalon appears to be preparing for the eventual re-opening of businesses and has released new safety guidelines for its development, among them: one-way sidewalks, floor decals indicating proper line spacing, separating furniture in common areas and marking off six-foot spaces, installing dividers at all standing bars, new foot-operated door openers at the dog park, and sanitizing cars after valet services. [Avalon]
• Local furniture chain Havertys says it will re-open 108 stores nationwide on Friday, but it is laying off 1,200 employees—a third of its staff that—who were previously furloughed. 730 employees will continue to be furloughed, as the stores will have reduced hours with fewer staffers. [AJC]
• The High Museum of Art has released several Zoom backgrounds depicting its artworks, if you really want to class up your next morning meeting or happy hour. [Flickr]
• Atlanta-based New York Times reporter Kim Severson interviewed Kyma chef Pano Karatassos, who said that Buckhead Life Restaurant Group (which owns eight Atlanta restaurants including Kyma, Buckhead Diner, Atlanta Fish Market, and Chops) is planing to re-open dining rooms on May 1. Severson notes that many restaurateurs are looking to Asia for guidance not only on how to safely re-open, but also for how to create a comfortable, enjoyable dining experience in the midst of a pandemic. [NYT]
• Curious how Georgia’s plan to ease social distancing measures compares with the other 50 states? WSB-TV compiled a helpful list of each state’s overall stance on extending or ending shelter-in-place orders. [WSB-TV]
• Emory infectious disease expert Dr. Carlos del Rio gave an interview to Fox 5, saying that while the state is seeing “a flattening” in hospital admissions, there is not yet a decline in COVID-19 cases. However, “I think we’re going to see that decline, and I think we’re going to see it because the transmission is slowing down,” del Rio said. He cautioned that the outbreak is far from over for Georgia, comparing hitting the peak in cases to reaching the peak of Mt. Everest—climbing back down is still dangerous. Ultimately, he advised as businesses begin to re-open, “What we need to emphasize to people, is, continue practicing social distancing. Continue being careful about what you want to do. You don’t want to get infected. And, you don’t want to bring this back to your family.” [Fox 5]
• The Georgia Poison Center has reported an increase in calls regarding the misuse of cleaning products, but it’s less citizens trying to drink or inject themselves with bleach and more that they’re mixing cleaning chemicals, which can have toxic results. (Rule of thumb: Don’t mix anything with bleach.) There’s also been an uptick in children ingesting substances, likely because children are at home more. In general, read and follow the instructions on the label of your cleaning products, don’t mix products, and please, do not ingest them. [Georgia Health News]
On Friday, several metro Atlanta businesses began to open their doors, while the mayor condemned the governor’s actions. Here’s your Saturday morning update:
• There are now 22,491 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. 899 people have died. 4,322 have been hospitalized. 107,176 tests have been conducted. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• Friday was the first day that salons, barbershops, bowling alleys, movie theaters, gyms, and a few other businesses were allowed to re-open under Governor Brian Kemp’s executive order. The AJC did a fairly extensive roundup of businesses that opened across the metro area, including Peachtree Battle Barbershop in Buckhead, Three-13 Salon in Marietta, Slangin Ink tattoo parlor in Chamblee, and Lush Nail Bar in Sandy Springs, among others. Van Michael Salon, which has locations across Atlanta, is asking clients to sign wavers. National gym chain LA Fitness reversed their previous decision to open on May 1 and has not yet set an opening date. [AJC]
• Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared on Good Morning America Friday morning to condemn Governor Kemp’s executive order. “To open up our state today is irresponsible. Simply because we have hospital beds and we aren’t at capacity doesn’t mean we need to work to fill them up,” she said. She advised Georgians to stay home and said, “What I believe is that there are some who are willing to sacrifice lives for the sake of the economy, and that is unacceptable.” [WSB-TV]
• Finding personal protective equipment (PPE) is just one of the potential hurdles businesses opting to open may face. Restaurant workers and those working at hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, and similar closer-contact facilities, are required to wear masks while working, but many retailers are still sold out of them, the AJC found. Some owners are turning to the internet to try to find what they need—one Buckhead salon owner who is not yet opening up told the AJC she spent $900 on face masks and $430 on masks. [AJC]
• In Cobb County, the Silver Comet, Noonday Creek, Bob Callen trails will re-open today, along with some park spaces. Playgrounds and basketball courts will remain closed. [11 Alive]
• The AJC has another useful article on understanding data, this one explaining the different ways that organizations are charting and predicting coronavirus data. It notes that the IHME model, the most widely-cited model, has been “relatively inaccurate” so far, but that it shows our death rate dropping to zero in June and predicts June 22 as the best time to begin easing social distancing. Another model from Los Alamos National Laboratory has been more accurate for Georgia, and it predicts that Georgia has likely already past its peak in cases. (That said, another peak can still happen.) It predicts 2,300 Georgians will have died by June. Columbia University also has a model that forecasts the spread of the disease. [AJC]
On Thursday, the governor released additional guidelines for businesses planning to re-open. Here’s your Friday morning update:
• There are now 21,883 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia. 881 people have died. 4,154 have been hospitalized. 101,062 tests have been conducted. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• The Georgia Department of Labor processed 247,003 more unemployment claims last week, bringing the total in the past month to 1,090,536, which is more than the combined total for the previous three years. [GA DOL]
• Governor Brian Kemp has released the “Reviving a Healthy Georgia” executive order, which is essentially a version of his executive order from Monday with many more specific guidelines and situations, including the safety measures restaurants, salons, movie theaters, gyms, bowling alleys, and other businesses must take to re-open. It requires Georgians to continue social distancing and says that residents are “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask at all times outside except when eating, drinking, or exercising.
Restaurant dining rooms are to allow no more than 10 people per 500 square feet, and employees are required to wear face masks at all times. Contact between wait staff and patrons is to be “limited,” and salad bars and buffets are not to be used. Restaurants are asked to use rolled silverware as opposed to silverware placed on the table, and the order advises removing self-serve items (plastic silverware, drink lids, condiments, etc) and having employees distribute such items instead. No more than six are to be seated at a table.
Gyms are asked to suspend group classes and close off areas like basketball courts and pools. For hair and body art studios, one patron per service provider is to be in the building at any time and no more than half the employees are to be working at one time. For bowling alleys, no more than 6 people can be at a lane, and lanes are to be staggered. [Office of the Governor]
• Not only do employers have to worry about safety and the risk for employees and customers getting sick, Atlanta lawyers also told the AJC they should be concerned about lawsuits. The article notes that nationally, Wal-Mart has already been sued by the family of an employee who died of COVID-19. One Atlanta lawyer recommended businesses post plenty of signage that informs customers and employees of expected safety protocols. [AJC]
• Plenty of Georgians are asking questions about how the state releases data on coronavirus cases, as the charts and information on the department of public health website can be confusing and difficult to understand at first glance. As the AJC reports, part of the issue is that the state has been using different metrics for a “new” case; one new chart shows a new case logged as “the day the symptoms began or the sample was taken, whichever is earlier.” But, the AJC says, “the cumulative counts DPH has released every day since March show the date of a new case as the day the agency received the results of the test.” So, depending on which numbers you’re looking at, our caseload is either rising or dropping. Add to the fact that the numbers change frequently due to backlogs in reporting, and add to the fact that we still don’t have enough testing, and, well, it’s a mess. Regardless, as one public health expert told the AJC, “The number of cases today or tomorrow shouldn’t affect an individual’s choices in their behavior.” So, stay home if you can. [AJC]
• President Donald Trump spoke out again against Governor Kemp for the second day in a row at his daily coronavirus press conference, saying that he “wasn’t happy” with the governor for choosing to re-open certain businesses this week. White House administrators told the Associated Press that Trump called Kemp on Tuesday to praise his decision, but on Wednesday, Dr. Deborah Birx, of the White House’s federal coronavirus task force, told the president it was too soon for Georgia to re-open. Trump then reportedly called Kemp to tell him to rescind the order, which Kemp did not do. [AP]
• APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the school system will hold in-person graduation ceremonies no earlier than July, but possibly as far as in the fall or winter. [AJC]
• Several Atlanta chapters of the NAACP are calling for a “Black Out, Sick Out,” encouraging people to continue staying home and noting that COVID-19 has been shown to disproportionately affect communities of color. [WSB-TV]
• Have you seen Big Poppa the sad English bulldog? Atlantan Rashida Ellis posted a photo to Twitter of her good boy on sitting sadly on the patio of her apartment, saying that he missed playing with neighbors. The post has received more than 800,000 likes and attention from celebrities like Maisie Williams and Ellen DeGeneres. Explaining the popularity of the post, Ellis told Buzzfeed, “Not only is he so sad and cute and you want everything to change for him, but you want everything to change for yourself, too, because we’re all in this situation.” [Buzzfeed News]
Big Poppa has been so sad today, I think he miss playing with the kids in the building. He just watches them from the patio pic.twitter.com/gVooqvZ5oI
Then on Thursday, the governor released an updated version of the executive order that further detailed safety guidelines for Georgia businesses.
This development has confused plenty of Georgians, so let’s try to break it down.
Which businesses can re-open under the executive order?
Beginning Friday, April 24, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios (tattoo and piercing parlors), barbershops, hair salons, estheticians (waxing, threading, eyelash extension, cosmetic treatments, etc.), massage therapists, cosmetology schools, private social clubs, and movie theaters can re-open.
The order includes a lists several safety procedures the businesses are required to adopt. Each business category has slightly different requirements, but broad guidelines include increased sanitation, screening employees for fever and illness, implementing teleworking or staggered shifts as possible, prohibiting handshakes, enforcing social distancing, and increasing workspace to six feet between employees, among other conditions. Another caveat is that that most businesses are not to have more than 10 people inside at a time unless they can remain six feet apart at all times. We’ll go into more detail on the specific guidelines below.
Elective medical services—elective surgeries, dental offices, physical therapists, optometrists, among other services—”should begin treating patients as soon as practicable.” Kemp’s April 3 shelter-in-place order did not actually order any of these businesses to close, although some have elected to close on their own. The order encourages those who voluntarily closed to re-open.
Restaurants will be allowed to open for in-person dining on Monday, April 27. Kemp also mentioned in his April 20 press conference that houses of worship can hold in-person services as long as they adhere to strict social distancing guidelines, although these were never truly restricted under the shelter-in-place order. He recommended online and drive-in services as an alternative.
Which businesses won’t be allowed to re-open?
Bars, live performance and entertainment venues, amusement parks, and swimming pools will not yet be allowed to re-open. Schools are also not re-opening.
What happened to the shelter-in-place order?
Georgia’s shelter-in-place order is still in effect through April 30, and those who are at an even greater risk for the virus (those over 60 or who have compromised immune systems) asked to stay home through May 13. So even though these businesses are open, Georgians are still supposed to stay home as much as possible and wear cloth face masks when they do go out. The April 23 order, which will take effect from May 1 through 13, requires that Georgians continue to social distance and refrain from gathering and strongly encourages them to wear face masks when outside the home.
(By the way, if you’re confused by the dates in the April 23 order, while the order as a whole does not go into effect until May 1, businesses opening on April 24 are required to comply with the order’s requirements immediately; same for restaurants opening on April 27. There is not a period where these businesses can be open and not comply with the order’s safety guidelines.)
Does this plan follow the federal Opening Up America Again guidelines? Not quite. Phase One of the federal plan does state that gyms can re-open with “strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols,” allows restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, houses of worship, and other “large venues” to open under “strict physical distancing protocols,” and allows elective surgeries to resume, but in order for phase one to even begin, states are supposed to have a 14-day downward trajectory of flu-like illnesses, symptoms that present similar to COVID-19, documented COVID-19 cases, and positive COVID-19 tests. Hospitals also have to be able to “treat all patients without crisis care” and have “robust testing” in place for healthcare workers, including antibody tests. States are also supposed to have contact tracing systems prior to starting Phase One. The state is working on a such a program, but there isn’t yet a timetable of when it will be implemented according to the AJC. President Donald Trump has also criticized Kemp’s plan, saying in a national press conference that it was “just too soon” to allow businesses such as salons and tattoo parlors to re-open.
What are some of the safety guidelines that these businesses have to follow? We won’t list every guideline, as the governor’s executive order is 26-pages long—it is available for download it here—but we wanted to point out a few notable ones to give you an idea of what is expected of businesses.
Among other sanitation and safety guidelines, the executive order says that restaurants shall allow no more than 10 patrons per 500 square feet to occupy the restaurant at one time; require all employees to wear face masks/coverings; “limit contact” between waitstaff and diners; discontinue salad bars and buffet service; use rolled silverware rather than placing flatware on the table; sanitize essentially every single item between diners (table condiments, digital ordering devices, check presenters, self-serve ordering areas, tabletops); remove self-serve items from drink, condiment, utensil, and tableware stations, requiring employees to distribute these items instead; use single-use paper menus or disinfect plastic menus after each use; re-arrange dining rooms to allow six-feet between parties; seat no more than 6 people to a table; prevent patrons from congregating in waiting areas or bars; and close any playgrounds or play areas. The order also says that while dine-in is allowed, “take-out and curbside pick-up services should be prioritized over dine-in services.”
Hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlors, etc. In addition to what is in the executive order, the Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers has released separate safety guidelines, which can be read here. Among the guidelines, salon and shop employees are required to wear masks at all times, and face shields are recommended. Customers are also advised to wear masks. Among other sanitation and safety guidelines, the executive order says that these shops shall operate by appointment only and not allow walk-ins; require patrons to sanitize their hands before entering; only allow one patron per service provider to be in the building at any time; require patrons to wait in the car until it’s time for their appointment to start; and stagger shifts so that no more than 50 percent of employees are providing service at one time.
Gyms and fitness centers
Among other sanitation and safety guidelines, the executive order says that gyms and fitness centers shall screen patrons at the door for fever or signs of illness; use contactless check-in methods; require patrons to wipe down machines before and after use; limit the use of cardio equipment to every other machine; prohibit socializing in the gym; suspend group classes; suspend in-faculty child care; close pools, basketball courts and “other group sport areas,” hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, and tanning beds; limit or suspend locker room access; and require patrons to spray showers with a provided cleaning solution after use.
Indoor movie theaters
Among other sanitation and safety guidelines, the executive order says that theaters shall only seat parties of six people maximum, with all parties seated six-feet apart; put tape on the floors at ticket counters and concessions to guide patrons six-feet apart; close any playgrounds and arcades; and not use party rooms to host parties.
Among other sanitation and safety guidelines, the executive order says that bowling alleys shall put tape on the floors at ticket counters and rental areas to guide patrons six-feet apart; allow only six people per lane; stagger lanes to keep parties six-feet apart; remove self-serve bowing ball and shoe selection (meaning employees have to distribute these items); close any playgrounds and arcades; and not use party rooms to host parties.
Grocery stores, of course, have been open during the entire pandemic, but the executive order now issues requirements for them, many of which grocery stores have already been doing. The requirements include limiting customers to 50 percent of capacity or 8 people per 1,000 square feet; and installing protective screens “where worker-patron interactions are likely” (such as the plexiglass screens that have been installed at Kroger and Publix). They are also advised (but not required) to reduce store hours for cleaning; add tape or decals on the floor to keep customers six-feet apart; provide PPE to employees; discontinue samples; and close self-serve and buffet areas, among other guidelines.
Childcare facilities Childcare facilities have also never been required to close as they are considered an essential service, but new requirements include providing meals in classrooms rather than communal settings; not providing toys and games that cannot be easily sanitized; cloth toys that are machine washable are to “be used by one individual at a time or should not be used at all and should be laundered before being used by another child”; and each child’s bedding is to be kept separate and “any bedding that touches a child’s skin should be cleaned weekly or before use by any other child.”
What are Atlanta’s local leaders saying about this? On Tuesday, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told WSB-TV’s Jovita Moore that she learned of Kemp’s plans to re-open businesses while “watching Channel 2 like the rest of Georgia.” She said she does not agree with the order and that she hasn’t seen the data the governor says he used to make the decision. “We still are not testing asymptomatic [people] and people with mild symptoms, so I still don’t think we have a clear picture of what our real numbers are. Our numbers are still going up.” She said she didn’t understand how businesses like hair and nail salons could properly social distance, and added, “But I do hope that I’m wrong and the governor is right, because if he’s wrong, more people can die.”
In sharp contrast, Marietta Mayor Steve “Thunder” Tumlin fully backed Kemp’s direction, noting Monday on Facebook that he would go to the gym and get his hair cut on Friday and planned to patronize Marietta restaurants for three meals a day starting next week. “Buy, hire, trade, and dine in Marietta. Godspeed,” he wrote.
On Wednesday, President Trump said he disagreed with Governor Kemp’s plan to re-open Georgia businesses. Here’s your Thursday morning update:
• There are now 21,102 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Georgia, 936 more cases than yesterday morning. 846 people have died, 28 more than yesterday morning. 4,018 have been hospitalized. 94,072 tests have been conducted. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• While President Donald Trump had previously reacted favorably to Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to re-open Georgia businesses this Friday, during a Wednesday press conference, the president completely reversed his decision and said he “totally” disagrees with the governor’s decision to re-open businesses such as salons and tattoo parlors. Trump said it was “just too soon” to let these businesses open. Kemp and Trump had spoken on the phone Tuesday in what Kemp’s aids had said was a productive phone call, the AJC reports. Dr. Anthony Fauci, too, said during the press conference, “Going ahead and leapfrogging into phases where you should not be, I would advise [Kemp], as a health official and a physician, not to do that.” Kemp affirmed on Twitter that he would not rescind his plans, tweeting, “Our next measured step is driven by data and guided by state public health officials. We will continue with this approach to protect the lives—and livelihoods—of all Georgians.” [AJC/Twitter]
• The IHME model, the most widely cited coronavirus prediction model, has changed projections for Georgia again. Last week the model said we had already passed our peak, but now, it says we will hit peak fatalities on April 29. It also recommends that Georgia not ease social distancing measures until June 22. [IHME]
• The state is working on a contact tracing program, something the federal guidelines on re-opening recommends prior to entering the first phase of the program. Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said that the contact tracing program is “our priority focus in the weeks ahead,” according to the AJC, and contact tracing has been used by the state to track TB and STDs. The program works by tracers contacting those who test positive to see who they’ve been in contact with, and then the tracer contacts those people and advises them to quarantine. The issue is the scale—the state needs a lot, possibly thousands, of tracers and those tracers have to act quickly to help control the spread. [AJC]
• The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has canceled the rest of its season, which as originally set to end June 14. The ASO is asking for patrons to consider donating their ticket fees to help support the musicians. The symphony is accepting donations, and all donations made before May 31 will be matched by an anonymous donor. [ASO]
• Starlight Drive-In Theatre has re-opened, but requires customers to watch the movie from inside their vehicles at all times. The snack bar and flea market are closed. [Facebook]