Gov. Brian Kemp has announced plans to allow some businesses to reopen starting this Friday, April 24, to get people back to work even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to claims lives.

Kemp announced the move in a televised press conference April 20. He said gyms, fitness centers, body art studios, barber and hair salons, nail shops, bowling alleys and massage therapy businesses can reopen Friday, but it won’t be “business as usual.” Kemp said there will be specific restrictions, including social distancing, screening workers for illness, extra sanitation, wearing gloves and masks, staggered shifts, and teleworking when possible.

Restaurant dining rooms and movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on Monday, April 27, with restriction details to come later this week. Bars, nightclubs and live music or art venues will remain closed for now.

Churches can hold services if they follow social distancing guidelines.

Kemp’s announcement was made as the Georgia Department of Public Health reports 18,947 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 733 related deaths.

Kemp said testing would be “taken to a different level” this week thanks to a partnership with Augusta University and Medical College of Georgia, which has created a free screening app available at AugustaHealth.org. Kemp said those with COVID-19 symptoms and those exposed but asymptomatic are encouraged to to get screened via the app. If the technician believes a person needs testing, then a patient will be referred to a testing site. Results are expected to be available in 72 hours.

Kemp said hospitals would also soon be able to resume elective surgeries, and that the Georgia National Guard would have 10 new “strike teams” heading into COVID-19 hotspots and to senior care facilities to help administer testing.

Kemp’s announcement comes as the White House and President Donald Trump have encouraged states to begin reopening to restart the economy.

“Farmers are struggling, small businesses are seeing sales plummet, contract workers are struggling to put food on the table, large companies have reduced hours and laid off employees,” Kemp said.

Kemp said his statewide shelter-in-place order would remain active until April 30 and encouraged the medically fragile to stay home.

Minutes after the press conference, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced the formation of an advisory council on “reopening” the city, with a report due by May 15.

The advisory council will be chaired by city Chief Operating Officer Joshua Williams; Robbie Ashe, a partner at the law firm Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore; and Ingrid Saunders Jones, the immediate past national chairperson of the National Council of Negro Women. Its membership is to include representatives from a wide variety of government bodies, business groups, universities, sports teams and interest groups.

–John Ruch contributed

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