Bottoms predicted that positive Covid-19 test numbers will rise within the next few weeks, possibly erasing the gains made by keeping people at home for the last three weeks.
The Atlanta mayor noted that as of noon Friday, Georgia’s death rate was up 37% from the same day a week ago.
“We are not on the other side of this,” Bottoms said. “It’s like we are in a tunnel, and rather than walking straight toward the light, we’re spinning around in circles. We’ll never get to the light if we don’t continue to do what we’ve done thus far, and that’s to separate ourselves socially from one another.”
While the epicenter of the virus was previously in states along the coasts like New York, New Jersey and Washington state, it is increasingly spreading into rural areas and to smaller cities where hospital resources were already stretched thin, presenting unique and complex challenges for providers and local leaders there.
Mayors in rural and populous areas caught off guard — and urge caution
Kemp’s decision to allow some businesses to open Friday surprised some local leaders in hard-hit rural areas around Albany, Georgia, a small city with an extraordinarily high number of cases per capita.
The city’s mayor, Bo Dorough, said he still hopes that Georgia’s governor will carve out an exception for hotspots like Albany and the surrounding rural counties to allow them to maintain more stringent measures.
Though hospitalization rates have dropped in his area, Dorough is now concerned about the spread of the virus both in the rural areas of Georgia near Albany and the larger cities like Savannah, though he said he understands the governor’s position that he wanted to have “uniform order in place throughout the state.”
In a telephone interview Friday night, Dorough said many businesses in Albany simply did not open Friday because of fears that cases could spike again and the difficulty of meeting all the physical distancing requirements. He said he expects that to be the case Monday when some restaurants will be permitted to open.
“The understandable concern is, ‘Heck, even if I open up I’m not going to have people eating inside the restaurant because folks are worried about getting sick and dying,'” Dorough said. “If you see the number of confirmed cases and this death toll that mounts every day, it’s not a situation where it’s like, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen to me.’ Because by this point in time, everybody knows somebody who’s been affected by it.”
On the other side of the state in Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson told CNN’s “Daily DC” podcast he had no communication with Kemp before the Republican decided to announce the plans to reopen.
Johnson said Kemp has kept local officials like himself from keeping their own stay-at-home orders in place, and said he just wants to follow President Donald Trump’s guidelines for reopening.
“The phased-in operations were clear to us, that you have at least 14 days of flat hospitalizations or infection — we’re still going up — and that there is mass testing, which we do not have,” Johnson said. “We’ve expanded it, but we’re certainly not where we’re testing most people in Georgia. That tells me that we are not ready to open.”
He added, “There are cities that are certainly more apt and more prepared to reopen than Savannah, and states that are more prepared to open than Georgia, based on the science. Today, we are not prepared for that.”
Coronavirus moves out of the cities and starts to hit rural meat processing plants
Public health officials are increasingly concerned about the growth of Covid-19 cases in southern and Midwestern towns where hotspots have developed at meat and poultry processing plants.
Assembling data from company press releases, states, county health departments and news reports, the center said this week that as of Friday, some 3,773 positive coronavirus cases have been tied to 66 meatpacking plants in 24 states.
The flareups of cases related to meat and poultry processing plants have occurred in small towns in a broad array states including Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. The virus has also hit smaller cities like Sioux Falls, South Dakota — where an outbreak at one Smithfield Foods pork processing plant has now been tied to a stunning 783 employee cases, with an additional 206 cases linked to employee contact.
With employees working shoulder-to-shoulder in tight spaces, the CDC’s report cited concerns about the limited number of hand-washing stations at the Sioux Falls plant and noted the company’s reported plans to increase the number of hand sanitizing dispensers, to institute a universal face mask requirement and to provide face shields to workers.
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, during a news conference on Thursday, said state health and agriculture departments have been working closely with Smithfield “to make sure that we’re able to put in some of those recommendations and get it up and running as soon as possible.”
“I don’t see any reason for there to be long delays,” Noem said of the plant Thursday. “We’re hoping to partner with them to open it as soon as possible.”
Another Smithfield Foods plant was forced to close in St. Charles, Illinois, on Friday. The Kane County Health Department announced Saturday in a press release that they ordered the plant to shut its doors on Friday “due to concerns about Covid-19.”
The department did not indicate how many cases may be tied to the plant or how many workers have been tested. Smithfield did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
This story has been updated with additional developments Saturday.
CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghia contributed to this report.