ATLANTA — Total confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Georgia topped 25,000 on Wednesday as Gov. Brian Kemp's experiment to reopen the state continues, despite criticism from public health experts and some local officials.
The Republican governor is expected to announce soon whether he'll renew a statewide stay-at-home order set to expire Thursday. But he's already blown holes in it by opening beaches and giving the green light for businesses such as restaurants, movie theaters, tattoo parlors and bowling alleys to allow customers back in with restrictions.
There have been at least 1,096 deaths caused by the virus in Georgia, according to data from the state's Department of Public Health.
Kemp has blocked local governments from implementing any stricter regulations and keeping businesses closed, resulting in pushback from several mayors.
"The frustration on this end is that the governor has gone out of his way to make it clear that his order supersedes any local decision-making that we have," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press. "I think that's unfortunate because we know our communities better than anyone."
Many have questioned whether Georgia meets the guidelines for reopening set out by President Donald Trump's administration, which call for two weeks of decline in new cases, widespread testing availability and robust contact tracing. Trump himself criticized Kemp's plan last week, saying he "wasn't at all happy" with the decision.
But Kemp has repeatedly said he relied on experts and data in pursuing one of the most aggressive reopening plans in the nation. He says the state's overflow hospital capacity is sound and testing capabilities are expanding.
In Atlanta, there are signs that the state may not be past its peak. Bottoms said that over the past three days "we have seen the highest spike in numbers of people coming into our major hospital, Grady Hospital, which is the largest trauma center in the Southeast, with COVID-19 symptoms."
Also on Wednesday, University of Georgia president Jere Morehead sent an email to students and staff saying he anticipates the university system will reopen for in-person instruction in time for the fall semester in August, news outlets report.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, and the vast majority survive. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause pneumonia or even death.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.