March12, 2020 Atlanta - Gov. Brian Kemp speaks as other officials standing behind during a press conference to provide an update on the state's efforts regarding COVID-19, after reporting the first death in Georgia related to coronavirus, at the Georgia State Capitol on Thursday, March 11, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Kemp doesn’t yet plan on imposing restrictions on bars, restaurants

As other states impose sweeping restrictions on businesses to enforce social distancing, Gov. Brian Kemp has balked at taking similar steps to slow the spread of coronavirus in Georgia. 

Though the governor has repeatedly urged residents to stay home if they can and avoid public gatherings, he has stopped short of ordering the statewide shutdowns of businesses and events aimed at halting the spread of the disease.

“We can’t just shut things down. I believe that would be counterproductive and I don’t know that our citizens would buy into that. We have to take an approach that is aggressive but also people feel like is warranted,” Kemp told radio station Q99.7. 

“Because if you overreach, people are going to rebel on you, basically, and not heed the warnings you’re giving to them. And if you don’t do too much, it creates big problems. We’re trying to strike that balance, and I believe we’ve done that so far.”

Many of his counterparts in other states have mandated the closure of businesses where people gather. 

In the past few days, Florida shut down bars and nightclubs for 30 days, North Carolina ordered all restaurants to close for dine-in customers, and the leaders of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey shuttered movie theaters, gyms and casinos. 

Kemp has broad new powers to order similar restrictions in Georgia after his declaration of a public health emergency was ratified by state lawmakers. That gave him the authority to suspend state laws, restrict travel and limit public gatherings through mid-April.

Though Kemp shut down Georgia schools until at least the end of the month, he’s been hesitant to use his powers to impose broader limits on gatherings that some local officials have ordered.  

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms limited public gatherings to 50 people this week, and lawmakers in Athens-Clarke County discussed imposing a curfew.  

“We are not going there. We have to keep commerce going,” Kemp said, encouraging residents to patronize restaurants that exercise social distancing. Asked at what point he could order new restrictions, Kemp said it’s still too early.

“That’s a really, really tough call. It will be interesting to see if the federal government does anything in that regard. What we’re doing is continuing to watch the data from around the state,” he said. “And right now there’s no reason for a statewide mandate.”

President Donald Trump this week recommended that gatherings be limited to 10 people, though he didn’t issue any order to do so. 

Kemp also told the station he has no plans to immediately offer state incentives for struggling businesses, which typically falls on the federal government during a national emergency.

“That’s why I’m asking people to support small businesses, and one reason I’m asking them not to close.” 

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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