Georgia coronavirus deaths reach 1,000 amid reopening effort

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) – Georgia officials reported Tuesday the coronavirus has killed more than 1,000 people statewide, a grim milestone that comes amid the governor’s aggressive efforts to reboot the economy.

The Georgia Department of Public Health said at least 1,015 deaths have been linked to the virus, with more than 24,400 infections confirmed statewide. The deaths include 432 people living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities in Georgia.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has not said whether he plans to extend Georgia’s shelter-at-home order that’s set to expire after Thursday. Meanwhile, Kemp has also allowed restaurants to resume dine-in service, and permitted hair salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters and bowling alleys to reopen.

Kemp’s order also strips local governments of any power to impose restrictions of their own. Some say Kemp is moving too fast and risking a resurgence in infections.

Among them is Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who told reporters Tuesday that Kemp was sending conflicting signals by allowing some businesses to reopen while also telling people to stay home.

“In reality, we’re under a stay at home order until April 30,” Johnson said. “Yet you can go get your nails done, you can go get a tattoo, you can go to movie theaters, you can go to bowling alleys. It’s those kinds of things that leave people confused.”

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Johnson said over the weekend he noticed increased traffic on Savannah’s streets and fewer people wearing masks or keeping a safe distance from others. He urged local businesses to refrain from opening for the time being if they can.

“We are not out of the woods yet and this is hardly the time to become complacent or lulled into a false sense of security,” Johnson said.

Kemp has said it’s imperative during the health crisis response to also mitigate deep economic suffering across Georgia. The state Department of Labor last week reported that 1.1 million workers – about one-fifth of the state’s workforce – filed for unemployment since the crisis started.

Still, Kemp took fierce criticism when many questioned whether Georgia’s data met reopening guidelines by President Donald Trump’s administration, which called for a two-week trend of declining new cases, widespread public testing and the ability to trace the contacts of infected people to break the chain of infection.

Officials have argued that Georgia’s outbreak peaked in mid-April, but that’s not yet clear from the data. The state has in recent days improved testing capacity, but is still scrambling to build a projected 1,000-worker contact tracing effort.

Trump himself criticized Kemp last week, saying: “I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp, I wasn’t at all happy.”

It took less than two months for Georgia’s death toll to reach 1,000 after the Georgia Department of Public Health reported the state’s first confirmed coronavirus infections March 2. Kemp announced the state’s first death March 12.

Kemp last week issued a new executive order instructing people 65 and older as well as those with medical conditions and residents of nursing homes and other care facilities to stay in place through at least May 13. But the governor said he was still examining data and consulting with Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey about what rules should apply to others.

“We’re going to be making some decisions, most likely in the next couple of days of what the next week, two weeks or month looks like, based on on that data,” Kemp told reporters Monday. “I just haven’t made those decisions yet.”

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Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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