ATLANTA – Things were still far from normal as some malls reopened Monday in Georgia: Parking spaces were plentiful, many stores remained shuttered and reminders of the coronavirus outbreak were everywhere.
The reopening of some malls is the latest development as restrictions meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Georgia have been loosening in recent weeks. Gov. Brian Kemp allowed a statewide shelter-at-home order to expire last week, having already opened considerable loopholes late last month by allowing businesses including barbershops, nail salons, gyms and bowling alleys to reopen, as well as letting restaurants resume limited dine-in service.
As of noon Monday, state health officials have confirmed 29,343 cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, and there have been 1,217 confirmed deaths from the disease. In Bulloch County, there are 42 confirmed cases and two deaths.
The Statesboro Mall reopened over this past weekend, with Belk, The Sir Shop, Bealls and The Shoe Department open for business. The JCPenney store was not open and it was not known when other stores in the mall would reopen.
The giant Town Center at Cobb in the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw reopened Monday, with lavender signs and arrows made from blue tape creating a maze of one-way paths through the food court. Employees at some, but not all, of the restaurant counters wore masks and at least one restaurant put marks on the floor to encourage customers to stand 6 feet apart while they waited.
A sign in the nearby restroom said only six people would be allowed inside at a time. Social distancing was enforced with red tape used to block off every other urinal.
A T-shirt on display at a kiosk in the mall featured a gas mask and the words “I survived Coronavirus 2020.”
In Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood, Douglas Butler, 28, arrived at Lenox Square mall around 11 a.m. It was much less crowded than normal and he easily found a parking spot in the normally packed lot.
Mall employees were handing out masks at the door, and just about everyone was wearing one while also maintaining distance from other shoppers, he said.
A personal trainer who's been able to keep up with many of his clients by Zoom, Butler decided to get out of the house and head to the mall Monday to buy two new pairs of shoes for his 4-year-old son.
“I got him sneakers. He needed new playing shoes, kids grow,” Butler said, adding that he might pick up something for himself as well.
“Since I’m here, I might as well,” he said. “Everybody has a sale on. If you’re open, you have a sale.”
Many retailers at both Town Center and Lenox Square remained closed Monday.
Simon Property Group, which owns both malls is also reopening other malls across the U.S. this week. Its website says it has advised its retailers to adhere to safety practices, including wearing masks.
Even with some businesses reopening and the statewide shelter-at-home order lifted, the coronavirus outbreak continues to keep Georgia courts from returning to normal operations.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton on Monday announced that he's extending a statewide judicial emergency through mid-June. That means civil and criminal jury trials will continue to be on hold and no jurors or grand jurors will be called to serve.
“The courts are different from most private establishments and public places in that we compel people to attend court proceedings, and that requires us to be extra cautious,” Melton said in a news release.
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.