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Augusta Mayor Pushes Back On Georgia's Reopening: 'We're Woefully Behind'

Barbershops, nail salons, gyms and a host of other businesses once considered nonessential are reopening to the public across Georgia, as the state eases its coronavirus restrictions. But even as storefronts begin to reopen, Gov. Brian Kemp's move has drawn a bevy of criticism from across the political spectrum — from President Trump, a fellow Republican, to mayors throughout the state.

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr., a Democrat, joined NPR's Weekend Edition on Saturday to explain his misgivings about the decision.

"I don't think we're ready to reopen," Davis said. "I'm optimistic that we're going to continue to do the things that we had in place prior to the governor's most recent order — and that is, individuals will continue to shelter in place. If there's no need for them to go outside of their homes, I'm encouraging folks to continue to stay inside so that we can flatten the curve."

Under Kemp's direction, a slew of businesses originally deemed nonessential were allowed to reopen Friday, so long as they carry out "minimum basic operations" and adhere to social distancing and sanitation guidelines.

The move comes just over three weeks after Kemp became one of the last governors in the nation to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. And in a variety of ways, the state has yet to meet the benchmarks established for beginning Phase 1 of the White House's reopening guidelines. Those benchmarks include being able to demonstrate a two-week decline in COVID-like illnesses.

Davis has expressed his doubts, along with other mayorsin the state.

"The success of us getting our arms around COVID-19 is predicated on being able to sufficiently test, to be able to contact trace and then provide treatment, which coincides with the White House's phased plan for reopening," Davis said. "To abandon that process in the middle of the fourth quarter, I think it puts us in jeopardy and in harm's way, in terms of being able to flatten the curve and stop the spread of the virus."

As of Saturday, Georgia has reported more than 22,000 cases of the coronavirus and 899 deaths. Davis said that until the state catches up on testing, it will not be ready to take the steps toward reopening that it has already formally embarked upon.

"I think we're woefully behind," he added, "and it's impractical for us to be open in the state at this early stage."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.