Georgia prepares to roll back coronavirus restrictions

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a news conference on Aug. 10, 2020, in Atlanta. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a news conference on Aug. 10, 2020, in Atlanta. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Gov. Brian Kemp said he’s planning to loosen the state’s remaining coronavirus restrictions, calling it a “critical step” to a return to normal as the number of new infections declines and more Georgians secure vaccinations to protect against the deadly disease.

The governor said Friday that his administration will outline plans to roll back the remaining coronavirus restrictions, which include capacity limits, restrictions on large-scale gatherings and dozens of safety guidelines for restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other venues.

“Georgians know the right thing to do,” Kemp said. “They know the value in best practices, but they also can’t wait to return to their normal life. Loosening these restrictions is the next critical step in that process, and it signals an even bigger light at the end of the tunnel.”

The scaled-back changes are expected to take effect Thursday.

More than a dozen other states have eased restrictions implemented a year ago to contain a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans. Some have made more limited changes, while Mississippi and Texas officials lifted mask mandates and allowed businesses to operate at full capacity.

Public health officials have warned that despite falling transmission rates, highly contagious variants of the disease could spur another spike in cases. They’ve encouraged Georgians to remain vigilant, sign up for vaccines, continue to wear masks and stay socially distanced.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution examination of state records found Kemp ranked business concerns ahead of public health imperatives and that his aides, not public health officials, often determined strategy to contain the virus and dictated public messaging.

Kemp has made few substantive changes in recent months to ongoing emergency orders that include a lengthy list of safety guidelines for many businesses to remain open. Though the rules are rarely enforced, they establish protocol such as social-distancing requirements and capacity limits.

Unlike many other states, Georgia never adopted a statewide mask mandate, though after a legal feud with the city of Atlanta the state permitted local governments to institute face-covering requirements.

The governor plans to relax the limits a week after allowing all Georgia adults to begin receiving the vaccines, a dramatic expansion of eligibility in a state still facing challenges distributing the lifesaving doses.

ELSEWHERE

- SOUTH CAROLINA: The governor of has opened COVID-19 vaccination to all of the state’s residents ages 16 and up, saying the state could begin scheduling appointments this week and receive the vaccine starting March 31.

- TEXAS: A state judge is allowing the City of Austin to continue to require face coverings in local businesses weeks after Gov. Greg Abbott ended a statewide mask mandate and other COVID-19 safety measures.

- ARIZONA: Health officials announced an outdoor state-run COVID-19 mass vaccination site in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler will be replaced April 5 by a drive-thru operation inside a large business warehouse in Mesa in advance of approaching hot weather.

- ALASKA: The Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported the state had 22,300 fewer jobs last month than it did in February 2020, citing an ongoing economic toll from the COVID-19 pandemic.

- Associated Press

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