Georgia governor lifts many of state’s remaining virus restrictions

Gov. Brian Kemp signed an order Friday lifting most of Georgia's remaining coronavirus restrictions. (Hyosub Shin /



Gov. Brian Kemp signed an order Friday lifting most of Georgia's remaining coronavirus restrictions. (Hyosub Shin /

Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order Friday that lifts 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 28-page order, which takes effect immediately, also ends a requirement that workers at restaurants wear masks, lifts more limits on conventions and scales back restrictions for live performance events. And it clears the way for sports organizations to more easily hold events.

The move is 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. The White House announced Friday that 100 million American adults have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and more than 3.5 million Georgians have received at least one dose.

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. Some scientists warn that more worrisome strains of the virus could take hold despite the growing inoculation campaign.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University infectious disease expert, pointed to federal data that shows Georgia’s still lags most of the nation in the distribution of the vaccine.

“It’s too soon. We can still have an explosion of new cases like other states have experienced,” he said. “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.”

Del Rio put it this way: “We’re in the seventh inning — we still haven’t won the game. You’ve got to bring the closer in, and you can still blow the lead.”

Democrats promised payback at the polls in 2022, when the first-term Republican is up for reelection.

“Brian Kemp has failed Georgia at every stage in this pandemic, and now he’s ending even the most bare-bones restrictions keeping Georgians safe,” said Maggie Chambers, the party’s spokeswoman.

The rollback comes as a spring wave of coronavirus infections that began in March begins to subside. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have all reported lower caseloads for the past two weeks, and hospitals in hard-hit parts of the Upper Midwest once flooded with patients are discharging more than they’re admitting.

Georgia is not the only state scaling back restrictions. Texas in March ended most of its pandemic mandates, and governors in Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut, Mississippi and West Virginia also announced significant rollbacks.

And as the daily average of new infections nationwide drops to the lowest level since mid-October, many cities are rapidly reopening after 14 months of restrictions. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he plans to have the city, once ravaged by the virus, fully open by July 1.

For months, Kemp made few substantive changes to the ongoing emergency orders. But in March, he signed an order that ends a ban on large gatherings, eliminates shelter-in-place requirements for vulnerable populations and pares down a lengthy list of safety guidelines for businesses.

“I want to continue to urge people to get vaccinated,” the governor said at an event this week. “It’s our ticket back to normal, when you think about people getting back into the Braves’ stadium, college football this fall, people going on vacation.”

The Washington Post contributed to this article.


The new order:

Eliminates requirements for social distancing at restaurants and for workers there to wear masks.

Ends safety guidelines for close-contact businesses such as gyms, movie theaters and barbershops.

Eases restrictions on conventions and live performance events.