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ATLANTA — About three weeks after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s controversial decision to begin reopening the state’s economy, confirmed coronavirus cases throughout the state have decreased — but many small-business owners and consumers remain nervous about the potential for future outbreaks.
According to Johns Hopkins University, during the week of April 24, when Kemp reopened the economy, confirmed coronavirus cases averaged 757 per day. As of this week, cases have averaged at 704 per day. Based on these test numbers, the state of Georgia is actually seeing about a 7-percent decrease in confirmed coronavirus cases since its reopening.
Top public health officials warned Tuesday of a possible resurgence of coronavirus cases throughout the nation if states reopen prematurely.
“It is my concern that if states jump over those checkpoints,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said, “we will start to see little spikes which could turn into outbreaks.”
Hairstylist John Bryant reopens his salon and begins taking limited clients.
Business owners throughout Georgia echoed health officials’ concerns, fearing the state might have reopened too hastily.
“When Georgia officially reopened, I felt like it was way too soon,” said John Bryant, the owner of Bennett Street Hair Salon. “My partners wanted to jump back in to work full force. But, just because Kemp opened up Georgia, it wasn’t like someone flipped a light switch and all of a sudden, we had no more virus.”
Salons across the country suffered when states deemed them non-essential businesses and forced them to shut down.
“The pandemic took a major toll on this industry,” Bryant said, “in large part because people couldn’t pay their rent. I know we couldn’t, that’s why we’ve had to join another salon where they own the building.”
Allure Nail Spa takes precautions such as the use of masks and plexiglass barriers between technicians and customers.
John Dinh, the manager of Allure Nail Spa in Atlanta, mimicked Bryant’s sentiments, acknowledging that their landlords have not given them any relief.
“All the people I know in this industry, we have to pay rent like normal and have no income coming in,” Dinh said. “We were closed for a month and since reopening, business has been much slower, because not all our employees or customers are back yet because they’re scared.”
Like the salon industry, restaurants across the country have felt the severity of COVID-19.
Jalisco’s Mexican Restaurant, a beloved restaurant of Atlanta, is open only for takeout.
Georgia restaurant owners said they felt torn between this fear of reopening prematurely, coupled with the need to work in order to pay the bills and keep their businesses afloat.
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“We have been just trying to survive,” Jaime Coronado said. Coronado has been the manager of a beloved Georgia restaurant, Jalisco’s, for over 23 years.
Jalisco’s makes it clear it is not allowing sit-down dining yet.
“It’s difficult to pay rent, we’ve had to let employees go and a lot of people are still afraid to go out,” Coronado said.
Before the pandemic began, Coronado said on average, Jalisco’s would have hundreds of customers during lunch, but now they’re lucky if they had even 10.
Jalisco’s food to go.
Jalisco’s has not returned to dine-in service, but has continued to offer takeout exclusively. Some Georgia restaurants, on the other hand, have reopened their dining rooms.
Kemp’s executive order allowed restaurants to reopen on April 27, pending they follow certain guidelines, such as allowing only 10 people inside per 500 square feet.
Atlanta’s Maggiano’s was one such restaurant. Manager Connie Kennison said while the restaurant has now allowed customers to eat inside, it’s still doing carry out because many customers haven’t felt safe.
“It’s really a hit or miss,” Kennison said. “Some customers are happy that we’ve opened and some have the other opinion that the dining room shouldn’t be open yet.”
As a new coronavirus hot spot has emerged in Northeast Georgia, specifically Gainesville, a new University of Washington model projected as many as 4,913 deaths in the state by early August due to COVID-19. It also projected deaths to continue increasing well into July.
Kemp acknowledged last week, “We know this isn’t going away any time soon… so whatever happens in the fall, or until we get a vaccine, it will help us continue to be ready.”
As for vaccines, Fauci said U.S. officials “hope to know by the late fall or early winter.”
He also said they wanted multiple candidates for potential vaccines. “We hope to have multiple shots on goal.”
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