Georgia Governor Kemp Defends Reopening of State, Says People Would Be Safer in Gyms Than Grocery Stores

The governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, has defended his decision to open up the state early from its coronavirus shutdown, telling Fox News that it was a "measured step" that had been based on careful data analysis.

Kemp has been under fire after he announced that, from Friday, establishments including gyms, bowling alleys, body art studios, hair designers and nail care artists could re-open for minimum basic operations.

Among the critics were Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who called the move "reckless," Albany Mayor Bo Dorough, who dubbed it "irresponsible," and Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, who said he was "shocked" by Kemp's decision.

Kemp told Fox anchor Martha MacCallum he had taken on board the criticism but insisted that there was time to educate the public and business owners that "this is just not handing them the keys back to go back to where we were."

Georgia governor Brian Kemp
Georgia governor Brian Kemp pictured on November 6, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. He is facing criticism for opening up the state from the coronavirus shutdown but defended his decision on Fox News. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"This is a measured approach with a lot of different requirements and guidance that we are going to be putting out," he said.

"It was done in conjunction with public health officials based on the data that we are seeing in our state and the gateways to the phase one part of the president's plan," he said, referring to the 18-page document, Opening Up America Again, released by the White House administration last week that offers guidelines to states and regions for a three-phase approach to getting the economy going again.

When asked what data he used to make the decision, especially with deaths rising in Georgia, Kemp said he had the backing of Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner, with whom he announced the reopening on Monday.

"I did not make this decision without her support. We pored over this data, we looked at all sorts of models," he said, adding that hospital CEOs had supported the return of some elective surgeries and "they supported a measured opening that is going to be limited in scope."

"We are talking about a few businesses that I closed down to help flatten the curve, which we have done in our state. But for us to continue to ask them to do that while they lose everything, quite honestly there are a lot of civil repercussions of that.

"It's a tough balance and I understand where folks like the mayor and others may agree or disagree. We took measured steps to get to the shelter in place and now we are taking measured steps to come out of that, this is not a giant leap forward," he said.

From next Monday, movie theaters can start selling tickets and restaurants will no longer be limited to take-out options, although they must still adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Kemp was asked why the first kinds of businesses to open up were ones that required close contact, such as nail salons, hairdressers and gyms.

"I imagine that there will be people in gyms that would be a lot safer than they would be in the grocery store or some of the other places of business that are part of the critical infrastructure that's been designated at a federal level," Kemp said.

In a separate interview with WSBTV, Kemp said: "What's worse: going to a grocery store and walking down the aisles with people, or... being on your own bowling alley lane?

"We're not saying these businesses can start having large gatherings at the bowling alley."

During the Fox interview, after Kemp expressed confidence in his state's hospital capacity, ability to ramp up testing and contact trace, the host of The Story with Martha MacCallum remarked how much opposition the governor had faced, and told him: "I hope that you are making the right decision."

Dr. Charlotte Baker, assistant professor in epidemiology in the population health sciences faculty at Virginia Tech, said she was concerned at the move to reopen states like Georgia early as there still was not enough testing and it was difficult to make sure people socially distanced.

"We are still trying to learn more now about reinfection," she said, "without enough testing we don't know enough to move forward even to Phase One," she added, referring to the first step of the White House's plans to reopen the economy.

"Right now, where you have already got the states that have decided to reopen regardless of the Phase One plan, I am expecting to see spikes in Georgia and Florida.

"You can say, 'I recommend you keep a physical distance', but as we have seen in photographic evidence, people are not—they are going about their daily life without regard to that physical distancing," she told Newsweek.

The infographic below, provided by Statista, shows the confirmed cases in the U.S. as of April 21.

This infographic shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the U.S. as of April 21. Statista

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.

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