Gov. Brian Kemp outlined shelter-in-place restrictions Thursday, a day after he reversed course and endorsed more severe measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The order, designed to keep most of Georgia’s 10.6 million residents at home, takes effect at 6 p.m. Friday and continues through April 13.
It instructs residents to shelter in place unless they’re conducting “essential services,” either traveling to and from jobs or taking part in other exceptions.
It allows Georgians to leave the home to buy groceries, purchase medical equipment, go outside to exercise, head to doctor’s appointments, or travel for work to businesses or nonprofits that comply with other restrictions.
And it requires the temporary closure of many indoor facilities, including gyms, salons, bowling alleys, theaters and amusement parks. It also bans dine-in service at restaurants but allows carry-out, curbside pickup and deliveries.
The new statewide rules override the patchwork of restrictions that local governments adopted over the past few weeks. That means more stringent or lenient rules adopted by some cities and counties are no longer in place.
Kemp’s office doesn’t distinguish between an “essential” or “nonessential” business. Instead, the state’s policy lists a range of criteria for “minimum basic operations” and “critical infrastructure” that businesses must meet to remain open.
They must screen workers for symptoms of coronavirus, including a fever over 100.4 degrees, a cough or shortness of breath. They must also implement teleworking and staggered shifts for all possible workers and ensure that protective gear is available.
‘Do what is necessary’
Businesses and other operations not considered “critical” under the guidelines must also provide alternative points of sale, increase physical space between employees and customers, and provide disinfectants for workers.
The order also permits residents to visit places of worship, so long as social-distancing guidelines and other restrictions are followed, though Kemp has publicly wrestled over whether to impose stiffer limits on congregations.
There are no limits on exercise, so long as social distancing is employed. Georgians can still visit state parks and play sports outside, including golf, though gatherings of more than 10 people are banned unless there’s at least six feet between each person.
At a press conference Wednesday, Kemp said the Georgia State Patrol and other agencies will take “appropriate action to ensure full compliance — no exceptions.” He did not disclose potential penalties, but he said, “we will do what is necessary if people fail to comply.”
Though the restrictions are set to expire in less than two weeks, the governor could extend them beyond that date if he renews a state public health emergency declaration that’s set to expire in mid-April.
>>MAP: Coronavirus cases in Georgia
Kemp for weeks said the pandemic didn’t warrant the extreme social-distancing measures that most other states were imposing, publicly supporting a hodgepodge of limits that Georgia cities and counties put in place even as his top aide criticized local governments for “overreach.”
But his about-face on Wednesday came amid dire projections of a steep increase in illness and death in the coming weeks from a pandemic that’s already sickened thousands of Georgians.
‘People don’t need to panic’
The governor attracted widespread ridicule for his comments at that press conference that he decided to take more drastic measures after learning the virus “is now transmitting before people see signs.”
Health officials have long known that people who were infected but not showing symptoms were capable of transmitting the virus to others.
His office said his remarks referred to more recent guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on this nature of asymptomatic infection, which a spokesman said triggered updates in state projections on testing, hospital capacity and virus transmission rates.
At the press conference, Kemp implored residents to heed the state’s directives, stay calm and “win this war by hunkering down.”
“People don’t need to panic. I understand people are scared and we’ve never seen anything like this,” Kemp said, adding that supply lines for groceries and medical supplies are secure.
If necessary, he said, the National Guard and the Georgia State Patrol would be used “to get groceries and supplies to keep our families fed, and to keep the medicines flowing, to get health care equipment coming to our state.”
>>More: Complete coronavirus coverage
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