Kemp extends virus restrictions as Ga. gains ground in pandemic fight



Gov. Brian Kemp extended a sweep of coronavirus restrictions Monday that chart out how businesses can operate during the pandemic as Georgia’s fight to contain the disease showed new signs of progress.

Kemp’s 49-page order continues to ban gatherings of more than 50 people unless social distancing is in force, and it requires Georgians in long-term care facilities or those deemed “medically fragile” to shelter in place.

It renews rules that empower local governments and school districts to impose mask requirements, though Kemp has opposed a statewide mandate for face coverings. The new order expires Sept. 15.

Kemp signed the order as state health data shows that confirmed COVID-19 cases have declined in each of the past six weeks. The number of people currently hospitalized in Georgia for COVID-19 also has steadily declined, falling below 2,000 for the first time since early July.

And recent federal statistics show that Georgia has improved in slowing the rate of new coronavirus infections, though recent White House coronavirus task force reports have warned improvements could be erased without more aggressive action.

The latest of those reports, released Monday, showed Georgia is making “continued week-over-week progress” in fighting the disease. The state now ranks seventh in the nation for the rate of new coronavirus cases; it had the nation’s second-highest rate of new cases last week.

Still, the White House report urged state leaders to impose new restrictions, such as limiting indoor dining capacity, banning gatherings of more than 10 people, and shuttering nightclubs, bars and other indoor venues in the 72 Georgia counties listed in the “red zone” because of a high number of cases.

And it showed Georgia’s rate of new infections remains nearly double the national average and is about three times higher than it was before Memorial Day.

Unlike in previous reports, the White House did not include a recommendation for a statewide mask mandate, something Kemp has resisted. And it urges the state to “ensure that all business retailers and personal services require masks and can safely social distance.”

In a letter released Monday by a U.S. House panel, Kemp decried those who would “exploit this pivotal moment for personal gain” and said there was a link between a midsummer uptick in coronavirus cases and a more complacent attitude.

“Summer holidays coupled with televised protests caused many to let their guard down and abandon guidance provided by public health officials,” he wrote in the Aug. 12 letter to the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Researchers have found scant evidence that the protests for social justice caused a spike in coronavirus infections, though many public health officials worried it could lead to a surge in new cases.

Kemp’s order continues to clear the way for local mask requirements. More than a dozen governments had adopted those rules over Kemp’s objections, and the governor had gone to court to block them, calling them unnecessary and unenforceable.

But earlier this month he dropped his lawsuit, which also targeted Atlanta’s coronavirus guidelines, and signed an order that allowed face-covering requirements so long as they followed a set of state guidelines. Since then, several additional Georgia cities have enacted mandates.