Georgia’s “Early Experiment”: White House Briefing Turns To Wisdom Of Easing Coronavirus Restrictions

As Georgia prepares to reopen parts of their economy as soon as Friday, one of the pressing questions at the latest White House press briefing was whether it is a wise decision.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced a plan to reopen gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors as long as they continued to follow strict social distancing guidelines. Movie theaters and restaurants would follow on Monday.

At the briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, expressed a degree of skepticism over just how some of the businesses will be able to comply.

“If there is a way that people can social distance and do those things, then they can do those things,” she told reporters. “I don’t know how, but people are very creative. I am not going to prejudge.”

Under a set of guidelines unveiled by the White House last week, states are being urged in their first phase of reopenings to maintain social distancing in restaurants and keeping groups to less than 10 people.

“It is up to governors and mayors to make sure that they are following each of those phases,” she said, adding that they also should “communicate very clearly” on the data that was used to make their decisions. The White House guidelines include criteria that states should have a 14-day trajectory of declining cases before moving on to the first phase of reopenings.

President Donald Trump said that he would be talking to Kemp later on Tuesday. He called the governor “a very capable man who knows what he is doing.”

Kemp appeared on Fox News’ The Story with Martha MacCallum right after the briefing ended, and Martha MacCallum pressed him on how people will be able to practice social distancing at businesses like salons and tattoo parlors.

“I mean, these are close contact kinds of businesses that are the first ones on your list. Can you explain why you would start with those kinds of businesses on day one?” she asked.

“They are going to have to follow the strict guidelines,” Kemp responded. “I would imagine there will be a lot of people in gyms that will be a lot safer than going to a grocery store or some of the other businesses that’s been designated as part of the critical infrastructure at the federal level. You know, this is going to take some common sense.”

MacCallum called the Georgia effort an “early experiment” in lifting restrictions, but Kemp insisted that it was also a “measured approach.” He also said that he had been in consultation with an epidemiologist in making the decision to lift the restrictions.

MacCallum said, “You know everybody in this country is going to be watching your state, because you have been one of the most aggressive and earliest in this process.” The mayors of Atlanta and one of the hotspots for the virus, Albany, have come out against the decision.

The White House daily briefings, running between 5:30 PM ET and 7:30 PM ET, have often preempted the show immediately preceding MacCallum — Special Report with Bret Baier.

Baier, a former White House correspondent, attended Tuesday’s briefing and got in a few questions, including about Trump’s plan to shut down immigration. He asked the president about reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was in “grave danger” after surgery.

Trump replied, “Well, these are reports that came out and we don’t know. We don’t know…So I just have to say to Kim Jong Un I wish him very good luck. I mean he came out with very, very serious medical reports. Nobody’s confirmed that. It was CNN that came out so when CNN comes out with a report I don’t place much credence in it.”

Before he left the briefing room, Trump said to Baier, “It’s an honor to have Bret Baier here. I used his slot a lot.”

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