Reopening Georgia: Bar Ban Extended, New Restaurant Guidelines

Kathleen Sturgeon

GEORGIA — Many restaurants in Georgia are beginning to open, salons are operating again and folks starting to leave their homes more frequently, but not all businesses can reopen quite yet. On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp extended the forced closure of all bars, nightclubs and live event venues in Georgia through the end of May.

Last month, Kemp allowed the statewide shelter-in-place order to expire, another easing of restrictions during the week when restaurants resumed dine-in service and houses of worship prepared for in-person gatherings.

However, the statewide public health state of emergency was extended through June 12. With it, the governor has now also extended the ban on nightclubs, amusement parks, bars and live performance venues through May 31.

"I know this extension is difficult for many Georgia business owners, and communities that have music venues," he said. "However, we believe that waiting a little bit longer will enhance health outcomes and give folks the opportunity to prepare for safe reopening in the future."

Restaurants have been allowed to reopen, as long as they could follow a set of guidelines Kemp and medical officials provided. Now, the restrictions are easing slightly to allow 10 patrons per 300-square-feet in a restaurant's public space, including waiting rooms, bar areas and patios. Additionally, party sizes at tables have increased from six per table to 10 guests at a table together.

"I'm very proud of these hardworking Georgians for following the guidance, keeping their employees as well as their customers safe," Kemp said. "I also stand with the small business owners and others who decided not to reopen their doors. These men and women have a choice, and I appreciate the incredible challenges they face every single day in this environment."

With the reopening stages, Kemp said he is aware that many people are afraid a second wave of cases may occur in Georgia.

"Let me be clear: we will continue to track the numbers and continue to heed (Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen) Toomey's advice," he said. "We will take whatever action is necessary to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians."

Gatherings of 10 or more people remain banned unless there is 6-feet in between each person, Kemp said. The gathering ban applies to all non-critical infrastructure businesses, local governments and organizations of all types, including social groups doing informal get-togethers, and recreational sports.

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Kemp is still urging Georgians to wear face masks when out in public.

A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting where social distancing may be difficult, such as in the grocery store, picking up food at a restaurant, or riding public transportation and especially in areas of widespread community transmission of coronavirus. Cloth face coverings help slow the spread of the virus and help people who may be infected and not know it from transmitting it to others.

The shelter-in-place order for medically fragile and elderly Georgians will continue through June 12, Kemp said.

Additionally, mandatory restrictions for social distancing will remain in place for all non-critical infrastructure businesses and for recently reopened businesses. The industry specific restrictions will be extended through the end of the month, Kemp said.

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Specific divisions of state agencies will begin to phase back into limited in-person operations, beginning Monday. Kemp said his office will release guidance at a later time.

Kemp also reiterated that testing is now available to all Georgians, whether they have symptoms or not. There are more than 65 specimen point-of-collection sites throughout the state, with an additional 30 mobile specimen point of collection sites; locations and hours vary daily.

People who want to be tested can contact any Georgia public health department to schedule an appointment at a specimen point-of-collection site convenient to them. Contact information for local health departments can be found on the Department of Public Health homepage.

Many healthcare facilities and labs are not reporting negative test results to the state, Kemp said. The state is working with them to get this data collected and published. This influx of data could spike new case numbers in the coming weeks.

"As we aggressively test more nursing homes and long term care facilities, we may see a sharper increase in positive test results," Kemp said. "However, by doing this, it will allow medical providers to intervene earlier and try to mitigate adverse outcomes among the most vulnerable of our citizens. Right now, nursing homes, assisted living and personal care home residents, and staff make up 18.5 percent of our positive cases, and 49 percent of the total deaths. We ask everyone to continue to protect the elderly and medically fragile as we continue to work around the clock to ensure quick, convenient testing is available for all Georgians."

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 34,737 total confirmed cases of coronavirus, as of Tuesday afternoon, an increase of 810 positive cases from Monday afternoon. There have been 1,465 deaths from coronavirus, and 1,461 people in the ICU due to the virus. As of Tuesday afternoon, 262,179 have been tested in Georgia for coronavirus.

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This article originally appeared on the Canton-Sixes Patch