Georgia’s reopening continued Monday as movie theaters welcomed customers and limited in-restaurant dining resumed.
This comes after other businesses, including barbershops, gyms, tattoo shops and nail salons, were allowed to start seeing customers Friday. While many gratefully opened their doors after a monthlong closure, others didn’t feel ready yet and remained shuttered.
A similar mixed response was seen Monday as some restaurant patrons and workers shared relief that they were able to return to some version of “normal,” while others expressed concern about the potential for outbreaks.
Lorena Alvarez, owner of Las Delicias Restaurant in St. Marys, told News4Jax now is not the time for her business to reopen its dining room.
“We’ve been doing a deep clean right now so we move the whole furniture we’re trying to clean with a lot of bleach,” Alvarez said. “On the reopening, we will try just to keep distance, but to be honest it’s difficult, and that’s why we don’t want to open right now. We just want to open in two weeks. But yeah, we will keep a lot of sanitizers, alcohol all the time and try to clean our menu a lot because we don’t want to risk nobody.”
But several customers at a Waffle House on Highway 40 in Camden County said it felt good to be able to walk inside and grab a bite to eat. They said it feels like a first step back to normalcy.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to get out and about," customer Gary Davis said. "It’s just good to get out.”
But other residents said they are against reopening just yet.
“It’s not you, it’s the person five days from now or the person you met from five days before," Leasel Maynard said. "It’s a chain. All it takes is getting too close or being downwind.”
The workers at Waffle House said social distancing is in practice at the restaurant, as is cleanliness and hand-washing.
At the St. Simons Pier Village, customers said it was a challenge to find parking as they began returning to restaurants in the shopping center.
“I’m extremely happy to see some doors open and some restaurants open. Even though they might be doing about half the business, it’s a start and you’ve got to start somewhere,” St. Simons resident Vic Williams said.
The owner of Iguanas Seafood on St. Simons Island said Monday was everything he hoped it would be as his restaurant reopened, seating guests one table apart, and with the staff wearing masks.
Though it’s the new normal for a business like his, Jester Butler said he’s just happy to be in business at all.
“I think this is the greatest day in the world. I want to be here. I want to be open. That’s what I do for a living. And when you’re forced to close for any reason it’s detrimental and devastating,” Butler said.
He said he was forced to let go of employees and transition to curbside take out, which he found surprisingly successful. Now that doors have reopened, traffic on the island has picked up and it’s working in his favor.
Gov. Brian Kemp last week announced that he was relaxing restrictions despite health experts’ warnings of a potential surge in infections and disapproval from President Donald Trump.
Kemp released 39 requirements that restaurants must follow if they reopen, including a limit of 10 customers per 500 square feet, no parties larger than six people and all employees wearing face coverings “at all times.” Movie theater ushers were ordered to enforce social distancing.
Kaitlyn Stone, a server at St. Marys Seafood and More in Camden County, said the workers at her restaurant are taking precautions.
“We have to wear masks all day, when we come in and leave, and then we have to make sure all of our caddies and stuff that we put on the table any ketchup, anything, we have to make sure that we clean those off after we take them off all the tables,” Stone said.
The shutdown imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus has caused tremendous damage to the economy, and the governor said it was time to start letting people get back to work. The Georgia Department of Labor announced Thursday that 1.1 million workers — about one-fifth of the state’s workforce — filed for unemployment in the five weeks since the crisis started.
But public health experts have said a spike in new cases could follow if reopening happens too quickly; increased testing and diligent tracking of infected people's contacts are needed to counter that. Georgia has ranked in the bottom 10 of states for testing per capita, but some progress was made on that front last week.
Trump, who has also stressed the need to get the economy chugging again, said last week that Kemp's plan was too much too fast. The president specifically said spas, beauty salons, tattoo parlors and barber shops shouldn't reopen immediately.
Kemp and other state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston, planned to gather Monday morning with faith leaders from across the state to hold a Day of Prayer service in the rotunda of the state Capitol.
Georgia’s stay-at-home order expires Thursday. Georgia’s public health emergency expires on May 13. At this point, there are no signs Kemp will extend either.
For most people, the coronavirus behind the pandemic causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.