As states across the U.S. weigh lifting coronavirus restrictions at risk of inducing a second wave of infections, Georgia is reopening the wrong businesses first, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told CNBC Tuesday.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, announced Monday that the state will reopen businesses on Friday, starting with retail locations such as gyms, barber shops, fitness centers and bowling alleys. Kemp’s decision came after several states mostly in the South unveiled plans to restart parts of their economy.
“I think the things that come later are the things that Georgia opened up first, which surprised me, those things that have very close personal contact,” Lamont, a Democrat, said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “Bars, restaurants where you’re closed in, probably even barbershops, nail salons, places where you have close personal contact, there I think we’d have to wait until we have a little more testing and more masks.”
Kemp’s office did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.
On Monday, Kemp said his plan is to focus on small businesses hardest hit by the lockdown. His move came amid a wave of announcements mostly by Republican governors about how states will shift into phase one of President Donald Trump’s ‘Opening Up America Again’ plan.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced the reopening of some beaches and parks. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, announced Monday he will not extend the state’s “safer-at-home” order on April 30, allowing most businesses to reopen on May 1.
“Unlike other businesses, these entities have been unable to manage inventory, deal with payroll, and take care of administrative items while we shelter in place,” Kemp said Monday. “This measure allows them to undertake baseline operations that most other businesses in the state have maintained since I issued the shelter-in-place order.”
Georgia and Connecticut have roughly the same number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, more than 19,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Connecticut’s Covid-19 death toll is nearly double that of Georgia. Lamont noted that Connecticut’s proximity to the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, New York City, is a risk factor that sets the state apart.
Lamont said he’s looking at May 20 as a tentative date to begin reopening the state, adding that an increased capacity to test for Covid-19 and a greater supply of surgical masks will be key.
“I want to do it cautiously. I don’t want to have another big outbreak the likes of which you see in India and Singapore and other places,” Lamont said. “My instinct is that we’re going to first focus on our big manufacturing and outside construction.”
Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb echoed Lamont’s concerns about the sectors of business that Georgia has decided to first reopen.
“It feels like they collected a list of the businesses that were most risky and decided to open those first,” he said on “Squawk Box.” “I think that we should try to focus on trying to bring people back to work in factories, offices first.”
James Quincey, the CEO of Atlanta, Ga.-based Coca-Cola, said later Tuesday he expects a group of consumers to be ready and willing to venture out and begin shopping once restrictions are lifted. But based on the company’s experience in Europe and China, where some restrictions have already been lifted, he said many consumers will hesitate to return to a state of normal.
“I have no expectation there’s going to be a snap back to normal on Friday or Monday morning,” Quincey said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “Each part of the world is trying to find a path to reopening, whether its the program that Georgia has, whether it’s what Germany and Austria have.”
Many of the countries Coca-Cola operates in that have had success in reopening have taken a gradual and cautious approach, he said.
“There could be steps backward in some countries as the virus flares up again,” he said. “We shouldn’t assume that each step forward is permanent necessarily.”