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Kemp to reopen some Georgia businesses

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ATLANTA - Restaurants, gyms, barbershops and other popular gathering spots in Georgia will be allowed to reopen in the coming days amid signs the spread of coronavirus is slowing down, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Monday.

However, several businesses hit hard by virus-prompted closures will have to stay shuttered for the foreseeable future including bars, nightclubs, music venues and amusement parks, the governor said.

The phased approach follows guidelines from federal officials and President Donald Trump, who has urged states to reopen many businesses following weeks of widespread shutdowns.

Kemp stressed at a news conference Monday that businesses set to reopen must abide by the same social-distancing and sanitation measures as other businesses that were not forced to close amid Georgia’s shelter-in-place order.

“I think this is the right approach at the right time,” Kemp said. “It’s not just throwing the keys back to business owners.”

A host of businesses will be allowed to reopen on Friday including gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbershops, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail salons, estheticians, massage therapists and schools for those trades.

Dine-in restaurants and movie theaters will be allowed to reopen next Monday, Kemp said. Elective surgeries that were put on hold to help hospitals tackle COVID-19 patients will also be permitted to resume.

Additionally, churches will be allowed to hold in-person services so long as worshippers keep their distance from each other.

Meanwhile, many other establishments will not be allowed to reopen yet. They include bars, night clubs, amusement parks and live-performance venues.

Public schools in Georgia will “absolutely” remain closed for the rest of this school year despite the gradual reopening of other activities in the state, Kemp said.

The governor indicated he may not extend the statewide shelter-in-place order again after it expires at the end of this month. But he also urged seniors and people with chronic health issues to continue staying home until at least through May 13, when the state’s public health emergency is set to expire.

As of noon Monday, nearly 19,000 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. The virus had killed 733 Georgians.

Still, national modeling and local data are starting to show a slowdown in the number of positive cases, hospital admissions and deaths traced to coronavirus, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner.

On Monday, Toomey said Georgia is on track to see enough of a decrease in the rate at which the virus is spreading to likely be able to safely lift the statewide shelter-in-place order by month’s end.

By then, state officials working with volunteers and medical students should be well underway with a new effort to undertake massive statewide “contact tracing,” which will track in detail the web of interactions that those who contract coronavirus have with other people, Toomey said.