All eyes are now on Georgia after Gov. Brian Kemp last week placed his state squarely at the center of the debate over how soon governments should begin restarting their economies and allowing people to leave their homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 2, Kemp issued a shelter-in-place order that effectively closed all non-essential businesses. Kemp was one of the last governors in the Southeast to issue such an order to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease it causes, and he was criticized for it.
A whole new wave of criticism has come for Kemp this week, including some from the White House, after the governor announced his plan to slowly reopen businesses across the state starting Friday.
In announcing certain businesses will begin minimum basic operations, Kemp kick-started the nation's most aggressive strategy to reopen the economy.
The first phase of Kemp's plan comes at a time when cases are on the rise, testing capacity is not where health experts say it needs to be and hotbeds including Atlanta and Albany in Southwest Georgia continue to see high numbers of daily confirmed cases and deaths.
On Wednesday night, President Donald Trump said he disagreed "strongly" with Kemp's decision to reopen the state.
"He must do what he thinks is right," Trump said at his daily coronavirus briefing. "I disagree with him on what he's doing."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the briefing he would advise Kemp "as a health official and a physician, not to do that."
U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler told the Times Free Press that Kemp's plan was "right on track" shortly before Trump disagreed with the governor. In a statement on Thursday, Loeffler said she supports both Trump and Kemp and that the two are "showing strong leadership during these unprecedented times."
"My focus is on protecting lives and livelihoods — I'm not going to play politics. Of course I support President Trump and I'm proud to serve on his task force to re-open America," Loeffler said. "And obviously, I support Governor Kemp and his efforts to begin to get Georgians back to work safely. We have to continue following the guidelines to stay safe."
Trump went on to say he thinks including businesses like barber shops and tattoo parlors in the state's "Phase One" re-opening plan was "too soon."
Al Creamer, who has been tattooing for 41 years, owns one of the thousands of businesses that will be able to open starting Friday in Georgia.
He's owned Aces Tattoo Company in Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, for 13 years but had to put his entire professional career on hold three weeks ago.
"We had to close when the governor issued his decree," Creamer said with a hint of disdain. "I was not ready to close. The mayor of Fort Oglethorpe didn't force closures, so I stayed open as long as possible."
Gyms, hair salons and bowling alleys are also among the businesses that may reopen — as long as owners follow strict social distancing and hygiene requirements. By Monday, movie theaters may resume selling tickets and restaurants now limited to takeout orders can go back to limited dine-in service, the governor said.
"In the same way that we carefully closed businesses and urged operations to end to mitigate the virus' spread, today we're announcing plans to incrementally and safely reopen sectors of our economy," Kemp said at a news conference Monday.
Bars, nightclubs, amusement parks and entertainment venues will remain closed.
Creamer said his tattoo parlor will be open and business will be the same as it was when the coronavirus started to spread in the United States and health officials released certain requirements for businesses.
"I'll have hand sanitizer everywhere, we'll have one or two people in here at a time, people standing 6 feet apart from each other and all the standard stuff," Creamer said. "All the things I was already doing when the health department told us to do so."
Jason Miller, owner of Twisted Sisters Hair Salon in Dalton, was working with his staff from morning to night on Thursday sanitizing the floors, couches, chairs, windows and every other surface in preparation for Friday.
When Kemp announced his plans, Miller said, the phones were ringing off the hook.
"It was a madhouse," he said. "For me personally, my next available appointment is May 15."
Miller and his seven stylists will be plenty busy for at least a month, but they are taking the necessary precautions to make sure people feel safe, he said.
The salon will allow a maximum of 10 people inside at one time and allow one client per stylist. No one can wait in the shop; they will have to wait in their vehicles before their appointments. Stylists also will clean and sanitize their stations before and after each client.
"We'll be following all of the state board guidelines and will work in shifts," Miller said. "Our chairs are 6 feet apart, so we're good on that. We're just asking people to be patient with us."
The Key Fitness Center in Rock Spring announced it will open Friday with limited hours and allow only 10 to 12 people in the building at a time. The gym will not offer group workouts for at least another two weeks.
Members will be asked to wash their hands before beginning their workouts, wipe down each piece of equipment being used and maintain a 6-foot distance from others.
"This is uncharted water and it is going to take some serious navigational skills on everyone's part," gym representatives wrote in a Facebook update. "If we are all gracious and kind, we can make it work."
Katelyn Dunlap with the North Georgia Zoo in White County said the facility will open Friday on a limited basis. Attendees must make a reservation between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. so crowds can stay at a safe size.
Social distancing will be implemented with strict guidelines for the Wildlife Walk tours and other walking tours, Dunlap said. Employees will also be sure to clean and sanitize the facility and offer hand sanitizer for guests.
While some business owners are hesitant to open up shop Friday, people including Creamer have been waiting for this day since they closed.
Creamer reluctantly said he didn't want to irritate anyone with how he felt about the strict guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but he said he feels as though the state and the nation have overblown the pandemic.
"For all of those that are scared, don't come out," he said. "Stay at home. But people got to survive and make a living."
Creamer said places like gas stations and grocery stores open the door for more human-to-human contact than do small shops like his.
"It seems like we can control it better than a big box store," he said. "My people who want to come see me have no problem with it. They have to understand that we have to play the government's game because we're living in a different world."
Some local elected officials in North Georgia were worried about Kemp's aggressive plan to open the state back up, but only time will tell if the strategy pays off for a state now nearing 1 million claims for unemployment benefits.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.