Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz takes notes at a Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz said Gov. Brian Kemp’s announcement that certain businesses will be allowed to reopen Friday comes without consideration for the need for an “enormous ramp-up” in testing and treatment for COVID-19.

“I’m exhorting everybody in this community to continue to shelter in place,” Girtz said in a CNN interview Tuesday. “Do not reopen at this point. It’s not the time to do it.”

Kemp said his order will override local action. In an interview with The Red & Black Tuesday, Girtz said ACC will continue to be explicit with the public about what health experts say and encourage residents to avoid putting themselves at risk.

“Nobody wants to see people go back to work more than I do,” Girtz said. “I’m seeing firsthand block by block, household by household what a challenging time it is. But I can’t ask anybody to go back when it’s not safe, and it’s simply not safe yet.”

Girtz said there has been a recent “modest” increase in COVID-19 testing in ACC but not to a degree that would provide the structure for safe opening. He said the county needs to double or even triple the number of tests provided.

Overall tests administered and turnaround time has improved, but it’s not enough, said Grace Bagwell Adams, a University of Georgia associate professor of health policy. She added that even the best scientists don’t have an exact number of what constitutes “enough” tests.

The Georgia Department of Public Health expanded its testing criteria on April 15 to include all symptomatic people. DPH testing eligibility was previously limited to health care workers, law enforcement, first responders and long-term care facility workers and residents.

“If we are still having to ration tests for health care workers and people who are extremely symptomatic, then we don’t, we still don’t have enough tests,” Adams said.

Despite this, Kemp announced Monday that he will allow businesses such as gyms, bowling alleys and barbers to reopen Friday. Theaters, dine-in restaurant services and private social clubs may reopen next Monday, but bars, nightclubs and live performance venues will remain closed.

The reopening businesses will have to maintain proper sanitation and social distancing measures, Kemp said.

Girtz said some business owners have told him they would not resume business on Friday due to safety concerns. Republic Salon, Washington Square Studio and Rinse Beauty Salon were among these businesses.

Girtz said residents have told him they still won’t go out to these businesses to try to stay safe. He said he hopes “that same wisdom” pervades throughout the state.

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