• Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp relaxed social distancing restrictions on Friday, despite warnings from health experts of a surge in coronavirus cases if the month-long lockdown was lifted too early.
  • Gyms, barbershops, hair and nail salons, spas, and tattoo parlors can resume business, but many have chosen not to. Elective medical procedures have also been greenlit.
  • Movie theaters and restaurants can open to the public starting Monday.
  • Throngs of people have converged at anti-lockdown protests in the southern state, which has reported at least 22,147 coronavirus cases and 892 deaths as of Friday.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Jennifer Knox stepped outside Friday morning and was greeted by a beautiful sunny day and no foot traffic.

On Tybee Island, a barrier island off of Savannah, Georgia, that’s a rare occurrence.

“It’s just eerie,” Knox told Business Insider. “The weather is awesome. This would just normally be a crazy busy weekend.”

Know owns The Sand Bar, which like numerous local bars and restaurants, will not reopen in the coming days, despite the state allowing them to do so. “My people are honestly too scared to work, and I’m not going to make them,” she said. 

Georgia has reported at least 22,147 coronavirus cases and 892 deaths as of Friday, based on data from Johns Hopkins University.  

Despite the threat posed by the illness, which has already infected more than 886,200 people and killed at least 50,360 people around the United States, Gov. Brian Kemp loosened the state’s shutdown, allowing certain close-contact business, such as gyms, barbershops, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, and spas to reopen. Elective medical procedures can also be resumed. 

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Steve Hall, one of two people at the gym, works out at Fitness 19 in Lilburn, Georgia on April 24, 2020.

Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images


On Friday, four masked customers stood outside David Huynh’s nail salon in Savannah as he opened his doors for the first time in a month, the Associated Press reported.

“Yes, I am ready to get my nails fixed,” Alina Davis said.

Movie theaters and restaurants can reopen from Monday, officials say.

As the economy crawls toward a high-stakes reopening, experts have sounded the alarm that Georgia could experience an uptick in COVID-19 cases if restrictions are lifted prematurely and social distancing rules aren’t obeyed. The state has been in the news recently as angry protesters took to the streets, demanding freedom from the pandemic’s containment measures.

President Donald Trump initially supported Kemp’s plan to reopen the state but, after consulting with health officials, denounced it a day later, two administration officials told AP.

—Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2020

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Nobody’s received federal relief money 

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, 1.1 million people have filed for unemployment since the public health crisis broke out, AP reported.

Knox told Business Insider that she and her employees have been devastated by the losses incurred during the lockdown. 

“Nobody is getting their unemployment. Nobody is getting their stimulus,” she said.

The Sand Bar made national headlines when Knox and volunteers spent several years removing dollar bills that had been stapled to the walls and ceiling of the bar to give to staff. In addition to the nearly $4,000 in cash that had been salvaged from the bar, Knox has raised an additional $8,000 to assist several dozen out-of-work service industry workers across the island.

“If we didn’t get these donations coming in, I don’t know what people would have done,” she said.

Knox also said that 99% of her traffic comes from tourists, so even if businesses on the island are allowed to open, she doubts people will be traveling there to visit them. 

Although hoping to do “some sort of soft-opening” in two weeks, Knox said, “The problem is, we’re out of so much stuff but I’m not going to order more food. It’s like, is it even worth opening?”

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Bartender Jake Glazier (R) serves his customers at a roadside bar in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 23, 2020.

Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images


‘They can’t wait to get on social media and blast you’

By contrast, Steve K., who declined to give his last name, said he waffled on whether to reopen his business. He’s the owner of Sidelines Grille, a family-run restaurant franchise in Georgia.

The family decided to open only one of its four locations. Their restaurant in Holly Springs will resume dine-in service on Monday, said Steve.

This particular Sidelines Grille has remained open during the lockdown but only offered to-go and delivery service, with one or two servers working a given shift. Restaurant sales have plummeted 80% during the pandemic.

Steve employs roughly 100 people, and only two are still awaiting their unemployment checks. He is paying those two workers $600 a week, roughly the equivalent of what an unemployment check would give them.

During the pandemic, he said, some employees were concerned about getting exposed to the coronavirus, and a few even volunteered to get furloughed. Others, however, couldn’t afford to go without the drastically diminished earnings.

“We’ve been helping them, giving the ones who are single mothers with children – supporting out of our own pocket a lot of the staff that is a little bit more unfortunate,” he said.

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Shannon Stafford styles the hair of Ebony Housey at her salon on Friday, April 24, 2020, in Savannah, Georgia.

Russ Bynum/AP Photos


Steve knows that by reopening he risks provoking community backlash and online vitriol.

“Everybody thinks that their voice is so important and they can’t wait to get on social media and blast you,” he said.

Georgia is tailing other states in terms of coronavirus tests per capita, and that’s what keeping another chain of restaurants closed.

Chef Hugh Acheson is the owner of three fine-dining restaurants in Athens and Atlanta, AP reported. He said the state’s testing is insufficient so he won’t reopen just yet.

“If I open up fine dining in midtown Atlanta and … 25 people show up to dinner because I’m brazen enough to do this, that’s not enough to make money and stay in business,” Acheson told AP.

More:

coronavirus
Georgia
Lockdown
Protests

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