Most of Georgia’s remaining coronavirus restrictions will end Memorial Day under an executive order signed by Gov. Brian Kemp.
The 22-page order he signed Friday continues a broader rollback of Georgia’s coronavirus regulations as millions of residents are inoculated. The order lifts restrictions on restaurants, bars, conventions, child care facilities and live performance venues.
And it seeks to restrict Georgia’s public school districts from mandating that students and employees wear masks, though it falls short of an outright ban. Kemp’s support for that move triggered sharp backlash from some parents, administrators and legal scholars.
It follows an earlier order that rolled back requirements for restaurants to practice social distancing and ended safety guidelines designed for gyms, movie theaters, barbershops and other close-contact businesses.
“As hospitalizations, cases, deaths and percent-positive tests all continue to decline — and with vaccinations on the rise — Georgians deserve to fully return to normal,” said Kemp, a first-term Republican facing a challenging reelection next year.
Under the new order, which takes effect Monday, only a handful of coronavirus restrictions remain in place, most involving nursing homes, long-term care facilities and schools. The governor has also taken steps to ban state agencies from requiring vaccinations, saying it amounts to government interference.
The order also specifies that public schools cannot use an ongoing state of emergency to require students or staffers to wear masks. But he didn’t explicitly forbid school systems from mandating face coverings.
The wording of the order led Anthony Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, to conclude it was “pretty toothless” because it didn’t amount to an outright ban.
“It doesn’t appear to command schools to stop masking mandates as much as Kemp is saying to local boards, ‘You can’t point to me as your reason for doing so,’ ” Kreis said.
Georgia’s fight against the pandemic has dramatically improved as the vaccine became widely available. Hospitalizations have plummeted in recent months, and more than 3.2 million Georgians — or roughly one-third of the state — have been inoculated. Still, Georgia lags most other states in the distribution of the vaccine.
Some public health experts warn of the risk of new cases fueled by emerging variants, particularly from virus-ravaged India. School officials also worry about the threat of more outbreaks among a student population that is still largely unvaccinated. Children under 12 years old still aren’t eligible for vaccinations, and only a small fraction of teens have received the doses.
Kemp, however, said the time for government mandates involving coronavirus restrictions is over.
“With safe and effective vaccines widely available and the public well aware of all COVID-19 mitigation measures, mandates from state and local governments are no longer needed,” he said.
New coronavirus order
Gov. Brian Kemp’s new COVID-19 order, which takes effect Monday, leaves safety guidelines and restrictions in place at only a few facilities, including:
- Nursing homes
- Long-term care facilities
- Public schools