Citing favorable data regarding the spread of the coronavirus, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp April 20 said movie theaters in the state could begin operations on Friday April 27. Businesses such as restaurants, gyms and hair salons can re-open on April 24. Bars, amusement parks, sports arenas and night clubs remain shuttered until further notice.
AMC Theatres operates 25 theaters in Georgia. Regal Entertainment operates 19 cinemas in the state. Both chains have furloughed executives and laid off workers, which could delay opening the doors in seven days. In addition, studios have pushed back major tentpole titles and theaters would have to operate limited seating in accordance with social distancing mandates — a regulation AMC CEO Adam Aron said he was comfortable with at the beginning of the pandemic.
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The governor made no mention of entertainment production, which includes WarnerMedia’s CNN and major Hollywood TV and movie studio operations in the Atlanta area and statewide.
Georgia has more than 18,000 confirmed infections and 687 deaths related to COVID-19.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee said the state’s stay-at-home order would end on April 30.
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The move comes as local and state governments across the country feel pressure to reduce social distancing mandates and restore the economy, which has seen 22 million people apply for unemployment — including record numbers of jobless claims filed in Georgia.
“People are anxious and worried about their health, their families, and how they are going to continue to make it financially during these uncertain times,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said earlier this month.
Kemp, who just recently said he only became aware the coronavirus could be spread by asymptomatic people, said the measured action, which includes wearing masks and social distancing in businesses, would help get Georgians back to work safely without undermining the progress he said the state has made in the battle against COVID-19.
“Today’s announcement is a small step forward and should be treated as such,” he said.
Kemp’s announcement left former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb perplexed. Gottlieb, a Republican who headed the agency through 2019, said it appeared Kemp was caving to the protests of small business patrons.
“Gyms, nail salons, bowling alleys, hair salons, tattoo parlors — it feels like they collected, you know, a list of the businesses that were most risky and decided to open those first,” Gottlieb told CNBC.
Instead, he advocated government first re-open factories, commercial settings and offices that support secondary businesses.
“Notwithstanding the fact that I understand there are a lot of small businesses behind these professions that are being badly hurt, but if you want to get the economy going, you want to bring back the businesses that contribute to GDP first, if you can,” Gottlieb said.