A look at major COVID-19 developments over the past week

In this file photo, Northside Hospital nurse Pat Matyi gives Emily Forbus a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Truist Park. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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In this file photo, Northside Hospital nurse Pat Matyi gives Emily Forbus a COVID-19 vaccine shot at Truist Park. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Georgia appears to be entering a new, more hopeful phase of the pandemic. Encouraged by vaccinations, many people are eager to return to their pre-pandemic routines.

The number of new infections is holding steady, as it has been essentially since mid-March. The seven-day rolling average of new confirmed and suspected infections is about 1,265, according to state Department of Public Health data.

It’s a sharp decline from the post-holiday surge in January, when the daily rolling average surpassed 9,600 cases.

A new Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey found growing confidence among Georgians that normalcy is returning, with a majority of people saying they would feel safe going out to eat or traveling by air.

But challenges remain in vaccinating more people in Georgia. The same poll found about 51% of those who responded said they have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Among those who have not been vaccinated, the poll found one-third of them are in a wait-and-see mode and that half don’t intend to get vaccinated. Public Health experts say vaccinations are key to getting the pandemic under control.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order that lifted many of Georgia’s remaining coronavirus restrictions, rolling back requirements that called for restaurants to practice social distancing and ending safety guidelines designed for gyms, movie theaters, barbershops and other close-contact businesses.

The order also ended a requirement that workers at restaurants wear masks, lifted more limits on conventions and scaled back restrictions for live performance events.

The move was largely symbolic, as the rules were scarcely enforced, particularly in recent months as the economy began opening up with the broader availability of coronavirus vaccines.

But Kemp has faced criticism from public health experts and others who say relaxing the restrictions sends the wrong message at a time when the public needs to remain vigilant.

“It’s too soon. We can still have an explosion of new cases like other states have experienced,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University infectious disease expert. “We’re catching up on vaccinations, but doing away with masks and social distancing at this point could turn around all the progress we’ve achieved so far.”

Here’s a look at major developments related to COVID-19 during the past week.

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A 2020 UGA graduate celebrates in the stands at Sanford Stadium during last October's commencement ceremony. This year, students will be allowed back on the field and there is no limit to the number of guests they can invite.

Credit: (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

A 2020 UGA graduate celebrates in the stands at Sanford Stadium during last October's commencement ceremony. This year, students will be allowed back on the field and there is no limit to the number of guests they can invite.

Credit: (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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A 2020 UGA graduate celebrates in the stands at Sanford Stadium during last October's commencement ceremony. This year, students will be allowed back on the field and there is no limit to the number of guests they can invite.

Credit: (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

No limit on guests at UGA graduation

University of Georgia students graduating this month will be allowed to invite as many guests as they want to their commencement ceremony, the university announced.

All levels of the stadium will be open to promote social distancing, and masks are “strongly encouraged,” but not required. This year’s commencement ceremonies will be spread out over three days beginning May 13, officials said.

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Hawks to expand seating for NBA playoffs

Hawks to expand seating for NBA playoffs

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Hawks to expand seating for NBA playoffs

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Hawks to expand capacity for postseason

For the start of the postseason, the Hawks will increase fan capacity at State Farm Arena from about 3,000 to 7,625, which will put it at 43% occupancy.

There will be a few notable changes to the arena’s setup, namely adding one section — about 500 seats — behind the existing courtside seating for fully vaccinated people, who will have to test negative upon entry.

Concessions will be expanded.

All safety protocols the Hawks have instituted, including mandatory masks and social distancing, will stay in place.

Both the Braves and Atlanta United are expanding their seating capacities to full capacity. The Braves started going to full capacity with Friday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies. And Atlanta United said it will increase Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s capacity to 100% of the typical soccer configuration — roughly 42,500 seats — starting with the May 15 match against Montreal.

The Braves, in partnership with Emory Healthcare, are offering vaccine shots before and during the games this weekend against Philadelphia.

And, as an incentive to get vaccinated, fans who get the vaccine at these games will receive two free tickets to a future Braves game.

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A 2018 file image of the Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Horizon. The Horizon is one of three ships Carnival has chosen to lead its phased-in resumption of operations in July. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

A 2018 file image of the Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Horizon. The Horizon is one of three ships Carnival has chosen to lead its phased-in resumption of operations in July. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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A 2018 file image of the Carnival Cruise Line's Carnival Horizon. The Horizon is one of three ships Carnival has chosen to lead its phased-in resumption of operations in July. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Rules set for trial cruises with volunteer passengers

Cruise lines can soon begin trial voyages in U.S. waters with volunteer passengers helping test whether the ships can sail safely during a pandemic, according to The Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave ship operators final technical guidelines Wednesday for the trial runs. The CDC action is a step toward resuming cruises in U.S. waters, possibly by July, for the first time since March 2020.

Each practice cruise — they’ll run two to seven days — must have enough passengers to meet at least 10% of the ship’s capacity. Volunteers must be 18 or older and either fully vaccinated or free of medical conditions that would put them at high risk for severe COVID-19.

Restrictions on board will include face masks and social distancing. The CDC will allow guided shore excursions for passengers — no wandering about on their own — if tour operators follow certain standards.

Ships must make at least one practice run before resuming regular cruises in U.S. waters, although operators will be able to avoid the requirement if they vouch that 98% of crew and 95% of passengers are vaccinated.

Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Shaddi Abusaid, Sarah K. Spencer and Tim Tucker contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.