Gov. Brian Kemp scaled back more coronavirus restrictions Thursday by signing an order that lifts a shelter-in-place requirement for many older Georgians, clears the way for live entertainment venues to reopen and permits larger gatherings.
The executive order immediately repeals a shelter-in-place requirement for Georgians age 65 and older unless they are considered “medically fragile,” a designation that includes those suffering from chronic lung or heart disease.
Starting Tuesday, it permits gatherings of as many as 50 people without social-distancing requirements. For groups larger than that, the order requires participants to space out at least 6 feet apart.
It also relaxes several restrictions on in-person dining at restaurants, removing a limit on the number of patrons who can sit together and permitting salad bars and buffets to reopen with precautions.
And it allows live entertainment venues, such as concert halls, to reopen July 1 if they follow a series of regulations. Conventions, too, will be allowed to resume on that date if organizers obtain a special license and follow safety guidelines.
Kemp has steadily eased restrictions imposed in early April to help contain the pandemic, making a case that the economic fallout has rivaled the disease's threat to public safety.
"I think it's time," said state Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, a restaurant owner who has praised Kemp's rollback. "There is still a lot of confusion in the marketplace, but hopefully this is a big step toward operational normalcy."
Democrats and some public health experts have sharply criticized Kemp's approach, fearing that the relaxed restrictions could trigger a new wave of the virus.
Among them is state Rep. Jasmine Clark, an Emory University microbiologist, who called it an "odd decision" given a recent increase in cases of the virus.
“I think the governor has given up fighting COVID-19,” she said. “That said, I implore everyone to please continue to be safe and recognize that this virus is still among us. Wear masks, social distance, wash hands and stay home as much as possible.”
The rate of new coronavirus cases in Georgia has appeared to plateau in recent weeks, according to state data, although on Thursday officials reported the highest increase in new diagnoses of the disease since May 1.
The number of Georgians hospitalized by the virus has dropped since May 1, the data shows.
An analysis by The Washington Post showed that more than a dozen states, including three that border Georgia, are showing new highs in the number of positive cases or hospitalizations since relaxing restrictions on businesses and large gatherings.
And public health officials have raised concerns that protests against police brutality across the nation could spread the disease. Georgia recently issued plans for test sites so demonstrators can get screened for the coronavirus.
Other parts of Kemp's order establish guidelines for the return of amateur and professional sports leagues, and loosen a testing requirement for campers and staffers at overnight summer camps in the state.
New regulations clear the way for circuses, carnivals and temporary amusement parks to resume operations, and they lift limits on party size at movie theaters. Capacity limits on bars were relaxed.
And buffets and salad bars are allowed if there's a staffer on duty to serve customers or if there's a sneeze guard and sanitizer in place.
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