ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp is working to clarify and defend his decision to reopen some of Georgia's businesses as early as Friday. Monday's announcement has drawn both support and pushback from both sides of the political aisle.
"I think one of these things that has gotten out of control on the national level is people think we are throwing the keys back to these businesses and that's it's going to be business as usual and it's not," Kemp told FOX 5 anchors Tom Haynes and Courtney Bryant during FOX 5 News at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
The governor reiterated he based his decision on science and the reason he initially put the shelter in place order into effect was to buy time to the peak of the outbreak to establish more bed capacity. Kemp said they have taken many steps to shore up the state's health care system to be in a better place to respond.
The decision did not come without controversy. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, state coronavirus task force member and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham have all voiced concerns. Even President Donald Trump, during his nightly press conference Wednesday night, said it was "too soon" to open those businesses.
Gov. Kemp said he spoke with the president and vice president since then and praised their handling of the pandemic.
Kemp said this is a measured opening with the understanding small business owners will not be able to go back to normal for quite a while and should abide by the strict guidelines set forth by the state.
But the decision he made now based on the data, the governor said, can be undone if that data changes.
"If we have a hot spot that pops up in another part of the state like we had in Albany, you know, I can do a countywide order or take different kinds of actions," the governor said. "We're going to be enforcing this. We're going to be making sure businesses comply. We're also going to be allowing the local law enforcement officials to help us with that."
The governor said he also believes the supply of personal protective equipment is in better shape based on his call with Vice President Mike Pence, who is in charge of the federal coronavirus task force. He said each business' efforts to obtain PPE would be "part of their due diligence" as business owners prepare to reopen.
"Some businesses are saying they're not ready to reopen, and I respect that. I certainly respect customers that may not want to get out and go to those businesses just yet, but I do think it gives our hardworking Georgians an opportunity to try to save their house, be able to feed their family, food bank demands across the state continue to go up, we're seeing more trauma care patients in our emergency rooms because of the level of frustration that is setting in across our state and across our country and I think this measured path forward is the right step at the right time," the governor said adding that he continues to reserve the right to follow the data and take action accordingly.
Kemp said businesses do have the responsibility to ensure their employees and customers are safe and following the guidelines the state is issuing will ensure that. He said he has several tools for businesses not in compliance, starting with a warning and making sure each business understands the guidelines. He said issuing fines would then follow.
The governor also said the state is working hard to process unemployment claims. He asked for patience for those trying to reach the Department of Labor adding the state agency received more requests in one week in the last month than they did the whole year prior. He said that he doesn't believe that would be a factor in employees returning to work.
The governor also applauds the ramping up of testing. He said Tuesday 3,000 tests were done while Wednesday 6,000. He added that more test kits are on the way which will help increase testing.
Kemp ended his live interview on FOX 5 Atlanta praising the Georgia National Guard for their efforts. He said there are about 3,000 boots on the ground with about 1,100 of those helping long-term care facilities cleanse their facilities. So far, they have helped about 500 facilities or about 74 percent.
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