In Savannah, Ga., the first step for a haircut is now a temperature check.
In Marietta, Ga., people will have to make disinfectant wipe downs of gym equipment part of their workout routine.
And at one bowling and arcade chain across the state, bowlers will not be allowed to handle any ball they choose; they’ll be taking the one given to them by a worker wearing a face mask.
Almost a month after Georgia’s shelter-in-place orders temporarily closed businesses where there is close human contact, such as beauty salons, gyms and bowling alleys, those closures have ended. Gyms, barbershops and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen Friday, and restaurants were allowed to open Monday, albeit with new social distancing rules.
Georgia is one of the first states trying to reopen its economy. The move has supporters who say this is a necessary step and critics who say it’s happening too soon.
Either way, it’s giving the rest of America a glimpse at what everyday life could be like when walking out of the house during the global pandemic’s new phase.
“The new normal for us is definitely different. It’s something we’re going to have to get used to,” said Shannon Stafford, owner of New Era Hair Studio and Restoration. The Savannah beauty parlor now has a sign on the door saying “NO MASK NO ENTRY!!!” highlighted in bold red.
Stafford had one client Friday to test her new way of doing business. That includes face masks for both stylists and clients, and Clorox
bleach wipe-downs of the sinks after every use. Both of those are Stafford’s rules. Temperature checks for customers are the state’s rules, she explained.
Stafford has a two-week waiting customer list, but that’s also because she’s only seeing three or four customers a day now. “My business is still suffering financially because I decided not to go full force with this. I want to take baby steps,” she said.
‘The last thing these people want to be is sick and miss a workout’
In Marietta, Dan Cardin, owner of Cardin’s Classic Gym, used to get to work just before 6:30 a.m. to open the doors for his early-bird customers.
He reopened five days ago, and now he gets to the gym at 5 a.m. to wipe down all the equipment with commercial-grade disinfectant and get the fans moving for better air flow. Throughout the day, he’ll wipe down the bathroom every hour.
Masks and gloves are optional for the gym’s clients, but everyone has to wipe down equipment with disinfectant wipes before and after use, he said. The health-conscious clientele have been taking the rules seriously, he said. “The last thing these people want to be is sick and miss a workout,” Cardin said.
Now some people wear masks when doing leg squats at Cardin’s Classic Gym. But no one’s spotted someone else on the bench press so far.
Cardin has seen some exercisers wearing masks during squats — that’s a tough leg exercise where someone can exhale deeply. So far, he hasn’t seen people spotting each another on the bench press.
Cardin, a health major in college who hasn’t seen his 81-year-old father in five weeks, emphasizes he is taking the virus’ threat seriously as he reopens. “The whole world is watching” how Georgia businesses reopen, he said.
‘Every business is in the health and wellness business’
The Peach State has become a flashpoint in the debate over whether the time is right for Americans to get back to shopping and business. It’s a high-wire act that’s balancing people’s health with an economic recovery.
Georgia had 25,274 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,052 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. Georgia accounts for almost 2.5% of America’s 1 million COVID-19 cases and roughly 1.7% of the nation’s 58,965 deaths.
Seven-day averages on new cases show Georgia has been leveling and trending down, at least for now, since mid-April. As of Wednesday, new confirmed cases had been dropping for nine straight days.
The Trump administration’s plans to reopen the economy say one benchmark is a 14-day downward trajectory for new cases.
All businesses are now trying sell peace of mind to bring customers through their doors, said Chris Clark, president & CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
‘If you lose the confidence of the general public, if you can’t win the confidence back, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.’
“Every business in Georgia, every business in America, is in the health and wellness business,” he said, later adding, “If you lose the confidence of the general public, if you can’t win the confidence back, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”
Customers get the final say on what they’re comfortable doing
The consumer’s frame of mind is critical for what happens next, said Chris Albano, co-owner of Stars and Strikes, an entertainment chain that offers bowling, arcades, and food and drink in 15 stores across five southern states.
“All of us, as consumers, have to make a decision for ourselves based on what we want to do and don’t want to do,” Albano said.
Whatever customers decide, Albano’s going to get his facilities in line with state and federal safety rules in the COVID-19 age. Technically, Stars and Strikes could have reopened its 10 Georgia facilities last Friday, but Albano said he’s aiming to reopen those stores on May 8.
The chain needed time to make physical adjustments and train staff on what lies ahead.
Every other bowling lane will be open. The arcade will turn off every other game, and all games will get wiped down every hour. There will be protective screens installed at cash registers. “There are no longer balls on bowling racks. For now, that’s a thing of the past,” he said.
Before the outbreak, Stars and Strikes employed 1,600 people. It dropped to 50 staffers at one point and now is back up to 250, and could add on another 200 to 250 by next week, Albano said. But Albano also has to see what business will be like, he noted.
The business secured a loan from the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill’s Paycheck Protection Program. Albano’s grateful for the lifeline, but thinks businesses need a longer window to meet the forgiveness terms of the loan.
‘The most risky time of all, with what we are dealing with, is the start up. It’s not the time you shut down.’
“The most risky time of all, with what we are dealing with, is the start up. It’s not the time you shut down,” Albano explained.
When businesses temporarily closed down, they could negotiate on rent and banking terms with banks and landlords that understood business owners were in predicaments they didn’t create.
But now, economies are starting to reopen and consumer money is supposed to start coming in, Albano said. “Once you start back up again, that understanding starts to change again.”