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April 22, 2020, 7:09 p.m. EDT

Trump says he ‘disagrees strongly’ with Georgia’s plan to reopen businesses

‘It’s just too soon,’ Trump says at White House briefing

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By Associated Press


AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks Wednesday at the White House.

ATLANTA — President Donald Trump said he told Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp that he “disagreed strongly” with Kemp’s decision to begin allowing some nonessential businesses to soon reopen.

Speaking at a daily White House briefing Wednesday evening, Trump said he told Kemp he had misgivings over the governor’s plan, but would not stand in his way.

“The people of Georgia ... have been strong, resolute, but at the same time he must do what he thinks is right,” Trump said of Kemp, a Republican. “I want him to do what he thinks is right. But I disagree with him on what he’s doing. ... But I think (opening) spas and beauty salons and tattoo parlors and barbershops in phase one ... it’s just too soon.”

In addition to pushback from Trump, Kemp’s plan to begin cracking open the Georgia economy faces two major hurdles — the state is struggling to increase testing for new coronavirus infections and boost tracking of those in contact with infected people.

Without those capabilities, experts said Georgia risks a quick rebound of the COVID-19 illness as Kemp allows some businesses to reopen in coming days. The Republican governor’s decision has been questioned because the state has yet to show continuing progress in those areas, and it could be difficult to catch up.

“The virus moves faster than government does,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “So if I had to bet on who would come out of the gate faster, it would be the virus.”

Georgia has ranked in the bottom 10 per capita in testing. After expanding capacity, the number of tests administered in Georgia had plateaued between 3,500 to 4,000 a day. However, on Wednesday, the state reported almost 6,000 tests over 24 hours, with Kemp saying on a conference call with Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler that Georgia was “really ramping up” its capacity.

Those tests Wednesday show Georgia with nearly 21,000 infections and 836 deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health.

“There are a lot of people that are hurting really bad right now on the financial end of things — our hard-working Georgians. And we’re trying to do all we can to allow them to start moving back into the work force in a limited and safe way,” Kemp said.

President Donald Trump’s reopening guidelines call for Georgia to test health care workers, people showing symptoms and to screen others not showing symptoms.

But critics have questioned Kemp’s adherence to those guidelines, which recommend 14 days of declining new infections before moving to the reopening phase Kemp has called for. On Friday, elective medical procedures will resume and barbershops, nail salons and gyms will reopen with restrictions. Limited in-restaurant dining will resume Monday.

“At best, you’re only seeing a week’s worth of decline,” said Dr. Colin Smith, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Georgia State University.

The stakes on Georgia’s ability to test and monitor are high. Many businesses and workers are holding back for fear of illness.

Dewond Brown, 42, was laid off in March from an Atlanta-area restaurant as a line cook making $16.40 hourly.

Worried about his high blood pressure, he said he wouldn’t go back if his employer reopened. He said he would want to know coworkers tested negative and see a sharp drop in new cases.

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