Mayors Resist Southern Governors’ Push to Reopen Despite Coronavirus Outbreak

April 22, 2020by Jaweed Kaleem, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, attends a meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/TNS)

As several Southern governors began to reopen their states shuttered by the coronavirus outbreak, some mayors pushed back Tuesday, saying they have yet to see the decline in COVID-19 cases needed to ease stay-at-home orders.

“I am beyond disturbed,” Van R. Johnson, mayor of Savannah, Ga., said on CNN after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced that gyms, salons, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys in the state could reopen Friday as long as customers obeyed social distancing guidelines.

Johnson called the governor’s order “reckless, premature and dangerous,” and asked businesses in his city to show “common sense” by staying closed.

He said Savannah still lacked the wide-scale testing that public health experts say is necessary before shops and businesses can safely reopen.

In Atlanta, Georgia’s biggest city, Mayor Keisha Bottoms said she was “perplexed” by the governor’s decision.

“I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical,” she told a news conference.

Kemp joined his fellow Republican governors from South Carolina and Tennessee in announcing partial openings this week even as local authorities continued to grapple with COVID-19 deaths and called for more testing.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster said department stores, flea markets and florists could resume business Monday night and that the state’s beaches could reopen Tuesday.

John Tecklenburg, mayor of Charleston, S.C., told a news conference Tuesday that his city would comply with McMaster’s order. But he said he was still concerned about testing capacity.

In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee said the “vast majority” of the state’s businesses and services could reopen by May 1, but that people should still keep a healthy distance from one another to avoid spreading the virus.

“For the good of our state, social distancing must continue, but our economic shutdown cannot,” Lee said.

President Donald Trump has called for the quick reopening of state economies, although he told governors last week they should “call the shots” on how and when to do so to prevent a new outbreak.

Public health experts say most Americans should remain home until widespread testing is available to determine who is sick and who should be put in quarantine. Current testing is far from sufficient, they warn.

Trump has also tweeted and commented in support of protests against stay-at-home orders in Michigan, Minnesota and Virginia, all states run by Democratic governors.

On Monday, Trump derided Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, after Hogan purchased half a million testing kits for his state from South Korea instead of waiting for assistance from the federal government.

Trump said Hogan, who heads the National Governors Association., “needs to get a little knowledge.”

For days, Hogan has expressed frustration with the Trump administration over his state’s struggle to obtain more testing equipment.

“If there were an easier way, we certainly would have taken it,” Hogan said Tuesday on MSNBC.

More than 43,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, since the outbreak began.

In New York and Detroit, two of the hardest hit cities, officials have said the worst part of the medical crisis may be over, although it may be months or longer before the economy recovers.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday that he expects upstate areas in his state to reopen before New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Cuomo was scheduled to meet Trump at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

In California, the number of infections appears to be leveling off even as death rates remain high.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has partnered with governors in Oregon and Washington to coordinate a regional recovery plan, is allowing limited easing of shutdown orders.

Parks are reopening in Ventura County, for example. So are golf courses in Riverside County.

New outbreaks of COVID-19 are also emerging, however.

Massachusetts reported a 10% increase in hospitalizations last week. And at least 1,828 inmates at a state prison in Marion, Ohio, nearly three-quarters of the population, are infected.

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©2020 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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