Middle Georgia Churches Remain Closed Despite GOP Governor's Reopening of State

Many churches in the region known as Middle Georgia remained closed Sunday even though Governor Brian Kemp has allowed the reopening of nonessential businesses.

Eddie Smith Sr., lead pastor of the Macedonia Baptist Church of Macon, told WGXA News on Monday that his church remains shut and that it will continue holding its services online. "It's safer. I believe it's safer," he said.

When the pastor was told by WGXA News that other churches in the Macon area also decided not to reopen, he said, "It just makes sense not to. Not right now, especially with the times being as they are."

Smith said he would need "a medical professional like [Dr. Anthony Fauci]" to give the green light for churches to begin opening again before he opens his doors. Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force.

Kemp announced on April 20 that he would allow nonessential businesses, such as beauty salons, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys, to begin reopening April 24, a decision that drew criticism from many political leaders, including President Donald Trump.

Trump said last week he thought Kemp's decision to reopen came "too soon" but added that Kemp had to do what he thought was right for his state. At his daily coronavirus press briefing Monday, the governor addressed the president's comments for the first time.

"Over the last several days, many have written about Georgia's plan to slowly reopen the businesses shuttered by our shelter-in-place order, and many more have written about the president's insight and advice on our game plan," Kemp said. "Rest assured, the president and I see a common goal, and that is to protect both the lives and the livelihoods of Georgians as well as the American people."

Georgia has 24,447 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 996 deaths, according to the state's Department of Public Health website. The site also reported 4,752 coronavirus hospitalizations as of Tuesday morning.

Kemp said Monday the website will now have a new coronavirus dashboard that keeps track of data about the outbreak. "It offers interactive reports which track emerging indicators, rates of growth and outcomes of the COVID-19 interventions," the governor said.

Data posted on the dashboard show that the number of new cases of the virus has declined every day since April 20, when the state reported 726. The state had just 44 new confirmed cases on Sunday. The seven-day average in new cases has also gone down, by more than half, from about 705 on April 13 to about 333 on Sunday.

Kemp also said Monday that movie theaters and restaurants would be allowed to reopen that day, with social distancing guidelines in place. Bars, nightclubs and live performance venues will still remain closed.

 Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Holds Coronavirus Press Conference
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks to the media during a coronavirus press conference on April 27. The state has reopened movie theaters and restaurants for dine-in customers. Kevin C. Cox/Getty