Gyms, hair salons and tattoo parlors had a green light to reopen Friday in the state of Georgia as the United States surpassed the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.
As the southern state lifted restrictions on a list of businesses that also included nail salons and bowling alleys, President Donald Trump warned that Governor Brian Kemp may be moving too fast.
"Spas, beauty salons, tattoo parlors, & barber shops should take a little slower path," Trump tweeted.
At the same time, Trump said he had told Kemp, a Republican ally, "to do what is right for the great people of Georgia (& USA)!"
The mixed messaging was the latest from a president whose remarks from the White House podium have frequently raised eyebrows, including most recently a suggestion that disinfectant could be injected to treat patients with COVID-19.
Trump sought to walk back his disinfectant comments on Friday, claiming somewhat unconvincingly that he had been speaking "sarcastically."
With much of the country on lockdown for a month, customers showed up early at several Georgia shops.
Chris Edwards, owner of the Peachtree Battle Barber Shop, saw his first customers in line at 7:00 am.
He said he was "happy" about being allowed to reopen his store in an Atlanta strip mall, where most establishments remained closed.
"I'm a small businessman," Edwards told AFP as he gave a trim to a middle-aged man.
"If I don't cut hair I don't make money," Edwards said. "We're being safe, we're being clean, it's all you can do."
Edwards was wearing a mask, but the customer was not.
Other shops followed more rigid rules. One Atlanta hair salon tested everyone's temperature as they entered, while a nail boutique northwest of the city required clients to sign waivers before receiving manicures.
Kemp's reopening plan has met with criticism from some business owners and residents in the Peach State who voiced fears it is too soon.
Several businesses with permission to open, including some fitness centers and hair salons, remained shuttered in Atlanta Friday.
"Believe in Science, Not Kemp," said a sign displayed by a person who honked repeatedly while driving past the governor's mansion. "Stay Home, Stay Safe," read another.
Eden Lio, a restaurant hostess and bookbinder who lost both her jobs in the crisis, was nonetheless participating in the rolling protest.
"We're going to get more sick if we open today," the 20-year-old said through her cloth mask. "We're not ready at all."
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms echoed that sentiment and urged residents of the capital city to stay home.
With the state's infection numbers and deaths rising, she said it was "irresponsible" to allow businesses to open now.
"There is nothing essential about going to a bowling alley or giving a manicure in the middle of a pandemic," she told ABC News in a denunciation of Kemp's order.
Some in Atlanta, however, cherished the opportunity to re-engage with society.
"I actually had a great time, a beaming Tili Banks, 41, said as she and a friend emerged from one of the few bowling allies that opened Friday.
"I was just so happy to be out that I didn't even realize I had these people's bowling shoes on when I walked outside," she said.
The United States is the country hardest-hit by the virus, with more than 890,000 confirmed cases and 51,017 deaths as of late Friday, according to a toll by Johns Hopkins University.
22,000 Georgia cases
Georgia's bid to jumpstart thousands of teetering businesses is the most aggressive return-to-normalcy effort in the nation.
Restaurants, theaters and private social clubs can open from Monday, provided social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines are in place.
But there is concern that easing shelter-in-place orders too early could trigger new outbreaks.
Georgia's coronavirus figures are far lower than those in New York, the US epicenter, but they are substantial.
The state has more than 22,400 confirmed cases with 899 deaths, its health department said Friday.
With the Trump administration pressing for a return to some form of economic stability, several states have taken steps to ease lockdowns.
"We're opening our country. It's very exciting to see," Trump said.
In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended her stay-at-home order until May 15, but she eased some restrictions by allowing landscapers and bike mechanics to return to work, and ended prohibitions against golfing and motorboating.
Whitmer, a Democrat, had been criticized for imposing limitations seen by many Michiganders as too restrictive.
The northern state has recorded more than 3,000 COVID-19 deaths.