Georgia Businesses Struggle with Forced Re-openings

Written by The Atlanta Voice

While many businesses are allowed to reopen in Georgia, some black small business owners are struggling with the decision, especially since black Americans appear to be at higher risk when it comes to Covid-19.

Glenn Singfield II, of Albany, Georgia, said although his family is hurting financially, they will keep their restaurant, The Flint, closed until they can come up with a plan to keep employees and customers safe.

“I support my governor, mayor, all that,” he said. “However, we have to do what’s best for our community and our people and our employees.”

Albany, a city in the south of Georgia, has been hit hard by Covid-19 cases — and Singfield II said he has lost people close to him and his family to the virus.

“Anybody getting sick and passing away or getting sick period, it would hurt us personally,” Singfield II said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican and ally of President Donald Trump, was among the last governors to sign a shelter-in-place order on April 2. He announced last week he would allow certain businesses in the state — including nail salons, massage therapists, bowling alleys and gyms — to reopen.

Kemp’s decision has been widely criticized, and even Trump, who has been pushing for businesses to reopen as soon as possible, said last week that he “strongly” disagreed with Kemp.

Putting the black community ‘even more at risk

Some black leaders in Georgia have said they feel Kemp’s move to end the shutdown early is an attack on the state’s people of color.

The impact of the virus on African Americans is much more severe than on other populations.

In a report published Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a study of data showed that among those hospitalized in Georgia because of Covid-19, more than 80% were black. African Americans make up 32% of the state’s population, but they account for 40% of Covid-19 cases, the report found.

“That was one of the reasons I was so shocked that Georgia was opening up because African Americans have a higher rate now,” said Dyan Matthews, the president and CEO of the South Fulton Chamber of Commerce, which represents eight cities near Atlanta with large black populations.

“The biggest fear is that a lot of the non-essential businesses are just going to end up having to open up all their doors,” Matthews said. “That’s going to continue raising the numbers in our community, putting us even more at risk.”

Georgia has at least 25,599 cases of Covid-19 as of Wednesday, and 239 people have died because of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

While business owners can choose to keep their doors closed, some feel compelled to open because they haven’t received any of the federal funds that were supposed to go to small businesses to help them continue to pay employees, Matthews said.

Too much, too soon

Gocha Hawkins, who reopened her Atlanta cafe, Gocha’s Breakfast Bar, to dine-in customers on Monday, said her biggest concern is for her employees.

Most of her employees have been receiving unemployment, she said. Although she applied for financial aid from the Small Business Association’s Payroll Protection Program, she said she hasn’t received any response.

“I thought it was too much, too soon,” she said of Kemp’s decision to allow some businesses to reopen. “I didn’t think it was a good idea.”

Since reopening, Hawkins said she has had about six customers eating in per day. Before the coronavirus outbreak, her restaurant was at full capacity, she said.

Carlos Davis, the owner of CUT-ology hair salon in Albany, has also reopened. But he now serves clients while wearing a mask and face shield.

Davis said he’s afraid “of what’s out there,” but also fears he won’t have a business to reopen if he stayed closed.

“It’s kind of a gamble,” he said, “but I really kind of have no choice.”

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