UPDATED on 4/24/2020 to include the just-issued guidelines for restaurants that re-open.
By now you’ve heard that Georgia’s restaurants will be allowed to re-open on Monday, April 27th. You may also know that this decision has proved to be controversial. It has been both applauded and condemned. We can probably all agree that it is a multi-faceted issue.
Because there is disagreement about how safe it is to dine out, we’ve put together a fact sheet of sorts. Our goal is not to be political, but to arm you with the information you may need to make the best decisions possible for your family.
We’ve never been in the opinion business here at Atlanta On The Cheap. We don’t write critical reviews of various entertainment options. Rather, we tell you where you might find the best value for your entertainment dollar and let you figure out the rest.
We’re doing something similar here. We have done our very best to stick to hard facts. And where that was not possible, we stuck with information that reflects a consensus by public health experts.
This is what we came up with. We urge you to follow the links for more detailed info and to make careful decisions.
What you need to know about Atlanta’s restaurants re-opening
These facts focus mainly on restaurants. In the coming days, we may do a similar post about hair and nail salons, and other personal high-touch services.
FACT: Georgia’s restaurants may legally re-open on Monday, April 27th.
This is a statewide order. Individual counties and municipalities will not be allowed to impose additional restrictions. As background, restaurants have been closed statewide since April 1st — although many have moved to a model that allows for takeout, delivery, and curbside pickup of orders.
While restaurants are allowed to re-open, the guidance issued by the state says they should maintain a focus on carryout and delivery to the greatest extent possible.
Movie theaters will also be allowed to reopen on the 27th. Yet again, many are choosing not to.
As reported by many entertainment news outlets, the theaters cite several reasons for this:
- health and safety reasons, including liability issues if there is an outbreak
- staffing issues, because most workers were laid off
- the fact that the studios are not releasing movies right now
Fox5 reported that Atlanta’s Plaza Theater has plans to open a drive-in theater in the back parking lot. Watch for this to be come a new trend — many of the multiplex cinema’s have huge paved areas around them.
Bowling alleys, gyms, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors may open on Friday, April 24th.
Venues that attract crowds — like bars and amusement parks — will remain closed.
NOTE that the shelter-in-place order does not expire until April 30th.
FACT: Many Atlanta restaurants are choosing to keep dining rooms closed.
A long list of prominent Atlanta chefs and restauranteurs have announced they will NOT re-open next week. They cite a common concern for the safety of their staff and customers.
You can read statements from over 20 Atlanta restaurants here, on why they will not re-open just yet.
Eater.com has compiled a list of Atlanta area restaurants that will not re-open, but will maintain a focus on carryout and delivery options.
As reported by the AJC, a coalition of over 50 Atlanta restaurants have united in their decision not to re-open until it’s more clear that it’s safe to do so.
FACT: Restaurants that re-open will be subject to strict guidelines.
Because the threat of illness is not over yet, restaurants and other businesses that open will have to comply with a list safety procedures. The guidelines were released on Thursday, April 23rd.
Some of the guidelines will have definite impact on your dining experience. These include:
- Prioritizing takeout and delivery over dine-in service
- Eliminating salad bars and buffets
- Eliminating self-serve stations for drinks, utensils, and condiments
- Using disposable menus
- Limiting parties to six people or less
- Using contactless payment options wherever possible
- Encouraging reservations and eliminating waiting areas
- Requiring servers to wear masks at all times
Restaurants will also be required to:
- Post signs stating a no-entrance policy for anyone with symptoms or a fever over 100.4
- Screen staff for symptoms of illness and fevers over 100.4
- Stagger shifts of workers
- Allow only 10 guests per 500 square feet of space at any time
- Provide hand sanitizer and additional hand-washing stations for guests and staff
- Sanitize tables and other shared surfaces
FACT: Metro Atlanta is still a hot spot for the virus within Georgia.
Local conditions vary widely across the state, so when you read about the current trend for all of Georgia, it may not always reflect what is happening here in Atlanta.
Not surprisingly, Metro Atlanta has the highest case load in Georgia. Population density is one of the most significant factors in disease transmission, and the most highly populated GA counties have the most cases — these are Fulton, Dekalb, Cobb, and Gwinnett.
There are nearly 6 million people in the metro Atlanta area. That’s more than the entire rest of the state, which is home to about 10.6 million people.
You can view case load statistics by county in the daily status report from GA Department of Public Health.
Atlanta mayor Keisha Bottoms recognized the difference between Atlanta and more rural counties. In a tweet, she asked Atlantans to stay home. She also created an advisory council to plan for re-opening the City of Atlanta and address challenges specific to the Atlanta Public Schools, Grady Hospital, MARTA, Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Major League Sports, the film industry, and others areas of concern that result from Atlanta’s density.
FACT: At the time of re-opening announcement, Georgia did not meet the benchmarks for re-opening restaurants and businesses.
This is where things get sticky, because the line between fact and opinion is not clear.
However, there is now a consensus of sorts regarding the best strategies for states and cities to employ when it comes to re-opening. These strategies seek to balance human casualties and economic disruptions.
The state of Georgia has NOT met the benchmarks compiled by FEMA, the CDC, and public health experts, when it comes to the decision to re-open restaurants and high-touch services like hair salons.
In a nutshell, the consensus is for a phased system of openings based on local conditions. Phase One should start when there is limited transmission of the disease, good health system capacity, and a strong containment effort in place.
So that you can compare expert opinions and see the consensus for yourself, we’re listing several of the primary sources below — and we encourage you to click through and browse the documents.
We found these documents to be relatively clear, but they require a strong focus to follow along and process the material. They may not be comprehensible to all readers, particularly those with little prior knowledge of public health principles and infectious disease protocols. Still, we think it’s worth taking a look.
Consensus for a phased re-opening:
- A framework for opening communities in 3 phases
- Roadmap to Re-opening (American Enterprise Institute)
- Public Health Principles for a Phased Reopening During COVID-19: Guidance for Governors (Johns Hopkins School of Public Health & the Center for Health Security)
- Guidelines for Opening up America Again (Centers for Disease Control)
Benchmarks to meet before re-opening:
- A sustained reduction of new cases for at least 14 days (which is the maximum incubation period for the disease). The daily statistics do not show this has happened in Georgia — as reported by the AJC and by the GA public health department. But as we said above, the trend in metro Atlanta is probably more important to you than the stats for entire state.
- Widespread testing. This would include essential workers as well as the general public. But data collected by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Georgia ranks 43rd nationally for the number of tests completed per 1,000 people.
- Contract tracing. This medical detective work involves tracking down those who were recently exposed to an infected person, followed by testing and quarantine. Georgia has barely started a program for contact tracing. As reported by the AJC, an effort to recruit and train contract tracers is still in the planning stages. Metro Atlanta alone may need thousands of tracers.
What to make of all this?
Again, our goal was to give you factual information so you can make your own best decisions.
If you live in Midtown, your safest course of action might be very different from that of someone who lives in a rural Georgia county.
If you’re considered especially vulnerable, due to your age or a medical condition, the CDC still advises that you stay home.
Please, weigh the facts before you make your next restaurant reservation.
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