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'This is our busiest time of year': Businesses in Georgia reopen despite coronavirus concerns

"We lost weddings, proms and graduations," said a nail salon owner whose business was closed for a month and reopened Friday.

Mayra Hicks took measured steps to change how she does business in mid-March before she was forced to shut down her shop because of the coronavirus.

So when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans Monday to restart the state's economy, clearing the way for businesses like hers that provide close-contact services to reopen Friday, Hicks, an esthetician, felt ready.

"I was already prepared because in the middle of March, when everything was happening similar in Italy, I decided to start using disposable apparel and changing a few things," said Hicks, who owns Skin and Silhouette in Marietta.

She welcomed her first client in weeks on Friday — a regular customer — who was scheduled to receive an oxygenating facial that costs $99. Hicks specializes in anti-aging, body contouring and hydrating treatments.

Hicks, a native of Peru, said she has not faced any backlash for choosing to reopen, but she is mindful of the concerns of others.

The governor's decision to allow gyms, bowling alleys, hair and nail salons and massage and tattoo parlors to reopen Friday — as long as owners adhered to social-distancing and hygiene requirements — has been met with criticism from local and national officials and sparked at least one protest Friday.

"I think I understand everybody," Hicks said in a telephone interview Friday. "This is a big concern about the virus. I think all professionals, we have to be very cautious and prudent — not just for the client but for ourselves.

"Especially considering we are going to spend 30 minutes to an hour with a client," she said.

Last month, Hicks said she stocked up on disposable wraps, robes, headbands and facial and body towels. She will no longer be using the plush reusable items typically offered at her shop.

The robes she purchased are similar to paper hospital gowns, she said.

The quality of the shop's apparel isn't the only thing that has changed. Hicks has closed the waiting area and is only allowing one client in at a time. Each client will be required to thoroughly wash their hands as soon as they enter the shop and before they undergo any treatments.

Kemp's order allowing some businesses to reopen requires customers be screened for potential symptoms, frequent cleaning and that staff be provided masks and other protective gear. Georgia has more than 22,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and close to 900 deaths, reported as of Friday, according to state health data.

By 12:30 p.m., David Huynh said he had about 20 customers at his nail salon in Savannah since reopening at 10 a.m. Friday.

He expects to have another 30 to 40 by day's end.

Huynh's business, Envy Nail Bar, has been closed since March 26. He said he has six-figure losses.

"This is our busiest time of year," he said in a telephone interview. "We lost weddings, proms and graduations."

His salon is near the Savannah College of Art and Design.

"My store is generally located," he said, adding that most of his clients are tourists and college students.

Huynh, 37, a Richmond Hill resident, said it took him about 24 hours after the governor's plan was announced Monday to decide to reopen.

He is allowing his nail technicians to return to work on a voluntary basis.

Some have chosen not to return yet but the majority have, because they are struggling financially, he said. His staff was down to 8 on Friday instead of the normal 18.

Huynh said that because it is not possible for technicians to do their jobs at a distance, he has them working farther apart — about 12 to 14 feet — in the 5,000-square-foot salon.

"We're keeping social distance," he said. "From technician to technician and client to client."

He is also limiting the amount of people allowed in the waiting area to a maximum of five.

In Buckhead — an upscale district of Atlanta — about 15 cars drove past the governor's mansion Friday afternoon demanding he keep businesses closed.

In the window of one car was a sign that read: "6 feet apart is better than 6 feet under."

Sam Brock contributed.