Georgia mayor pushes back on governor's reopening plan: COVID-19 case numbers not low enough

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The decision to reopen the state of Georgia before both the official end of the state's "stay-at-home" order as well as the required decrease in coronavirus case numbers under White House guidelines has created confusion, Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said Wednesday.

Appearing on "America's Newsroom" with host Sandra Smith, Johnson, a Democrat, said that it was clear his state had not yet met the threshold to reopen in the way Gov. Brian Kemp announced.

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"Here in Savannah, we've been keeping the faith but following the signs. From the White House's own guidelines for a gradual reopening, [there] are boxes that need to be checked. Among those is about a 14-day decline in infections, hospitalizations, and expanded testing," he stated. "Here in Georgia now with over 800 deaths, over 20,000 people infected, and a steady increase in infections, we have not met that threshold as of yet."

"And," he added, "we are at the 14th highest infection rate and seventh lowest testing rate in the country. So, those are just some of the scientific reasons by which I think we have to be careful."

"I know the governor is very concerned about Georgia's businesses. We have to make sure the people are safe," he cautioned.

Drawing a sharp rebuke from both sides of the aisle, Kemp announced Monday that certain businesses – including gyms, barbershops and nail salons – could reopen Friday, with restaurants allowed to resume dine-in service April 27.

He told "The Story's" Martha MacCallum on Tuesday night that the state plans to take a "measured step."

"People are just tired of it. It's a tough balance. I understand where folks ... may agree or disagree," he remarked. "I've got some people that are protesting me because I took this step and I may have others that protest because I didn't go far enough."

"This is going to take some common sense," the governor pointed out. "Our people have learned. They have helped us be a solution to the problem of flattening the curve and start getting to the other side of it."

However, members of Kemp's coronavirus task force were reportedly not informed ahead of the governor's plan to reopen some nonessential businesses.

"We have currently a 'stay-at-home' order issued by the governor that expires on April the 30th. Yet, we are opening businesses on April 24th and April 27th. That creates confusion," Johnson noted. "Obviously, we just want to be very, very clear that we are all running on the same game plan."

That said, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms publicly opposed Kemp's decision Tuesday, calling the move "perplexing" and claiming the plan wasn't based on "anything logical."

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Johnson told Smith that the science disagrees with Kemp's notions. Kemp himself did not learn until April that the virus could be contagious prior to people exhibiting symptoms. The White House had said so as early as Jan. 31.

"We have to do all that we can do to ensure that we are gradually phasing in in a very, very defined way. Opening up gyms and movie theaters, [and] restaurants makes it very, very difficult for people to be able to social distance at this point," Johnson concluded. "We have not really demonstrated that wholesale across the state of Georgia right now."