ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- Governor Brian Kemp is expected to make a public announcement Thursday about whether he'll allow his stay-at-home order expire at 11:59 p.m. as scheduled.
Kemp’s office initially stated that a decision to extend or loosen the executive order would come Wednesday but later delayed the announcement.
Georgians considered to be "medically fragile" remain under the shelter-at-home order through May 13.
While some Georgians continued to shelter in place this week, others began trickling into salons, restaurants, and movie theaters, as Kemp lifted restrictions a week early for some businesses that provide beauty services and tattoos.
Simon Malls announced plans to open its locations this weekend, possibly including some local malls prior to confirmation that the order would indeed be lifted.
“I have serious concerns about our prematurely opening up the state,” said Dr. Harry Heiman an epidemiologist and clinical associate professor at Georgia State University’s School of Public Health.
Heiman says testing and contact tracing is still lagging too far behind for this type of movement in Georgia.
“If he doesn’t renew the shelter in place that is due to expire, we can anticipate an increase in surge of cases, and I think that would be really unfortunate and irresponsible,” Heiman told CBS46.
Heiman says the state needs to be doing between 10,000 to 15,000 coronavirus tests each day. Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health announced it had just reached an all-time testing record of about 12,000 tests conducted that day—a number that is not high enough, consistently enough to Heiman.
“We need to have certain data in place to be able to open things up, but we also need to be able to have certain systems and resources and plans in place,” Heiman said as he went over state data.
He says businesses that have opened so far have a larger population of minority workers who live in communities already facing greater adversity with the virus and more difficulty accessing healthcare.
“To get a test you have to go through a drive-in center, and while I appreciate the hard work standing up 39 drive-in centers, it basically means that anyone who does not own a car can’t be tested,” Heiman told CBS46’s Hayley Mason. “I think when we look at those communities that are being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, and I am talking specifically about racial and ethnic minority communities and rural communities in our state,” he explained.
He says Georgia should not only have a mobile testing site visiting minority communities but long-term walk-in testing.
“I think Rhode Island is a state showing some national leadership that you have to have walk-in access centers, particularly in lower income minority urban neighborhoods, but also in rural areas and we are not even beginning to build up that capacity,” Heiman explained.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been outspoken about her desire for residents to stay at home despite the Governor lifting some. Her office wrote in a statement:
“The Mayor has a strong working relationship with the Governor, but disagrees with him on this particular matter. The Mayor’s Advisory Committee to reopen Atlanta has convened and is working to present their recommendations to the Mayor by May 15th. Mayor Bottoms will continue to act in the best interests of Atlanta residents, and use her voice to urge everyone to follow guidance from medical professionals and stay home.”
Governor Kemp has said he anticipates a rise of cases as well as things reopen, but says the state has better hospital capacity to handle it now.
“From a public health perspective that’s really a backwards way of looking at things,” Heiman said. Public health is about assuring the conditions for people to be healthy, not building healthcare capacity for taking care of them when we unnecessarily put them at risk and they become sick.”
Heiman says he hopes Governor Kemp begins to approach public health and financial health as two goals that are intimately intertwined as opposed to competing objectives.