clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What reopening will look like in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee

Most outdoor spaces will open right away, and some businesses will need to maintain social distancing guidelines to operate.

A person holds up a sign that reads “End the shut down.”
A demonstrator holds a sign at the Virginia State Capitol on April 16 in Richmond, Virginia.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

President Donald Trump and other conservative leaders have been calling for states to ease social distancing guidelines and reopen the economy since the White House released its “Opening Up America Again” plan last Thursday, and it appears that three states — Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee — will be the first to do so.

What that reopening will look like in each state is variable. Some, like Georgia, are charging ahead more quickly and will allow restaurants to be open for limited dine-in service on April 27. Tennessee, meanwhile, has released very few details on its reopening plans at all.

But there are some unifying themes. Most outdoor spaces like beaches and state parks will open in each state.

Another big similarity: the uncertainty of just how many establishments will listen to the governors and return to business as usual.

The three states going first to reopen haven’t necessarily been as hard hit as New York or Illinois, but they have by no means gotten off lightly in the pandemic. As of Tuesday afternoon, Tennessee had 7,238 confirmed cases and 152 deaths; Georgia 19,398 confirmed cases and 774 deaths; and South Carolina, 4,439 confirmed cases and 124 deaths.

And it’s not clear that any of them have achieved any of Trump’s guidelines to begin reopening, which call for several key measures to be met, including a downward trajectory in confirmed cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, over a 14-day period. Reopening too early or haphazardly could trigger a resurgence in cases — and deaths — from the virus.

Even if leaders encourage people to resume their normal lives, it’s not a guarantee that the people will follow their lead. A Gallup poll released last Tuesday showed that just 20 percent of US adults would resume normal activity right away once shelter-in-place orders are lifted, while 71 percent said they’d take a wait-and-see approach and 10 percent said they’d continue remaining at home.

That being said, here’s exactly what each state is allowing in its reopening.


First-term Republican Gov. Brian Kemp was one of the last governors to impose a shelter-in-place order on his state, and he will be one of the first to lift it. Public health officials criticized the governor for the hasty reopening, saying the state does not meet the White House criteria to do so.

According to an executive order released Monday, Kemp will lift the state’s restrictions for large swaths of the economy in three swift steps. Consistent with the governor’s previous shelter-in-place order, businesses are required to maintain “minimum basic operations,” which includes staying open to the public subject to social distancing requirements.

Opening immediately:

  • Medical facilities providing nonessential care, which, per the order, “should begin treating patients as soon as practicable”

Opening Friday, April 24:

  • Bowling alleys, gyms, tattoo parlors, and barber shops, nail care technicians, beauticians, and massage therapists

Opening Monday, April 27:

  • Restaurants and other dine-in facilities, and movie theaters

All businesses choosing to reopen must observe social distancing and hand-washing guidelines and monitor employees for signs of respiratory illness or fever over 100.4. Any employee displaying symptoms must stay at home. Employees must be provided with Personal Protective Equipment whenever necessary to complete their jobs.

Further, no business may allow more than 10 people to gather in a single location at a time and everyone must maintain at least 6 feet of separation between themselves and another person.

The guidelines are responsible, but some are fairly labor- or cost-intensive. As a result, some businesses may choose to remain closed, but they’ll no longer be required to. The state’s shelter-at-home order expires at the end of April and Kemp has said that he will not renew it.

South Carolina

Republican Gov. Henry McMaster announced Monday that he would take an aggressive approach to reopening the state, despite not having met the White House standards for beginning the process.

“We want to be able to slingshot around the competition and get back up to full speed as soon as we can,” he told reporters Monday.

It appears that South Carolina’s guidelines for employees of reopened businesses aren’t quite as protective as neighboring Georgia, and the state will allow more business sectors to open sooner, according to McMaster’s executive order.

Opened as of Monday, April 20:

  • Beaches, public piers, docks, and wharfs

Open as of Tuesday, April 21:

  • Furniture and home-furnishings stores
  • Clothing, shoe, and clothing-accessory stores
  • Jewelry, luggage, and leather goods stores
  • Department stores, with the exception of hardware and home-improvement stores
  • Sporting goods stores
  • Book, craft, and music stores
  • Flea markets
  • Florists and flower stores

But as with Georgia’s order, McMaster requires that businesses maintain social distancing guidelines that might make it economically unsound for some businesses to reopen. Any that choose to are prohibited from having more than five customers per 1,000 square feet of floor space, or 20 percent of maximum capacity according to the local fire marshall.

Additionally, businesses must ensure that customers maintain at least 6 feet of space between themselves and other people in the establishment and must thoroughly sanitize public spaces in accordance with CDC and state and local health guidelines.


Republican Gov. Bill Lee announced Monday that he would not be extending his previously issued “safer-at-home” order, which expires at the end of the month. By letting the order expire, businesses in 89 of the state’s 95 counties will be allowed to begin reopening. Lee’s order only applied to states that are overseen by Tennessee’s Department of Health.

It will be a different situation in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties, which are home to the state’s biggest cities and have their own city health departments. Each city’s health department will make its own decision on when — and how — to reopen.

“Our Economic Recovery Group is working with industry leaders around the clock so that some businesses can open as soon as Monday, April 27,” Lee told reporters Monday. “These businesses will open according to specific guidance that we will provide in accordance with state and national experts in both medicine and business.”

Opening Friday, April 24:

  • State parks

Opening Monday, April 27:

Some businesses (details are still being worked out by the governor’s economy recovery team and are expected to be released later this week)

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.