Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) announced Monday afternoon that they are taking the initial steps of allowing "non-essential" businesses to reopen.
The "vast majority" of businesses in Tennessee will be permitted to restart their engines on May 1. "Social distancing must continue, but our economic shutdown cannot," Lee said in a statement. "While I am not extending the 'Safer at Home' order past the end of April, we are working directly with our major metropolitan areas to ensure they are in a position to reopen as soon and safely as possible. Social distancing works, and as we open up our economy, it will be more important than ever that we keep social distancing as lives and livelihoods depend on it."
In Georgia, gyms, bowling alleys, salons, and massage therapists will be able to accept clients beginning April 24, though Kemp added that they will be subject to social-distancing guidelines and will have to conduct temperature screens for employees. Theatres, private clubs, and restaurants will be allowed to resume business starting April 27, with additional guidance to be released later this week. Bars and nightclubs will remain shuttered.
These plans will draw from President Donald Trump's three-phase federal guidelines for jumpstarting an economy that has been brought to a grinding halt by mandated social-isolation orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. As my colleague Eric Boehm wrote:
In phase one, the administration says vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter at home, gatherings of 10 or more people will be prohibited, schools would remain closed, and employees would be strongly encouraged to work from home whenever possible. Bars, restaurants, gyms, and other gathering places could be permitted to open, but only if they "adhere to strict physical distancing" guidelines.
To meet the threshold advised to begin phase one, states should show they have sufficient virus tracing, hospital capacity, and testing. Kemp said in a Monday press conference that Georgia was "on track" to meet those three goals, placing particular emphasis on the importance of the latter. "Testing defines the battlefield and aids our long term strategy," he said, noting that the National Guard and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency will work to increase testing numbers.
"By taking this measured action, we will get Georgians back to work safely, without undermining the progress we all have made in this battle against COVID-19," Kemp said. "Today's announcement is a small step forward and should be treated as such."