At first, Derek Canavaggio thought he would be able to ride out the coronavirus pandemic at home until things were safe. As a bar manager at the Globe in Athens, Georgia, Canavaggio hasn’t been allowed to work for weeks. Local officials in Athens issued Georgia’s first local shelter-in-place order on March 19, canceling the events that usually make spring a busy time for Athens bars and effectively eliminating the city’s rowdy downtown party district built around the University of Georgia. The state’s governor, Brian Kemp, followed in early April with a statewide shutdown.
But then the governor sent Canavaggio into what he calls “spreadsheet hell.” In an announcement last week, Kemp abruptly reversed course on the shutdown, ending many of his own restrictions on businesses and overruling those put in place by mayors throughout the state. On Friday, gyms, churches, hair and nail salons, and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen, if the owners were willing. Yesterday, restaurants and movie theaters came back. The U-turn has left Georgians scrambling. Canavaggio has spent days crunching the numbers to figure out whether reopening his bar is worth the safety risk, or even feasible in the first place, given how persistent safety concerns could crater demand for a leisurely indoor happy hour. “We can’t figure out a way to make the numbers work to sustain business and pay rent and pay everybody to go back and risk their lives,” he told me. “If we tried to open on Monday, we’d be closed in two weeks, probably for good and with more debt on our hands.”