Gov. Brian Kemp is facing a Wednesday deadline to decide whether to extend social-distancing restrictions for businesses and other requirements put in place in Georgia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor could extend all of the current business and gathering restrictions currently in effect or continue a trend in recent months of gradually relaxing them. He has executive authority to issue emergency orders through at least Aug. 11.
Kemp’s office said he plans to update the COVID-19 restrictions sometime Wednesday before they are due to expire at 11:59 p.m.
While a host of Georgia businesses have been allowed to reopen since May, they are still required by the governor’s orders to abide by several measures to keep people separated from each other, maintain clean surfaces and send workers home if they show symptoms of coronavirus.
A shelter-in-place order has been under effect since late March for Georgians in long-term care facilities and those with chronic medical conditions including lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, severe heart disease, compromised immune systems, severe obesity and diabetes.
In particular, large gatherings in Georgia have been limited to no more than 50 people if they cannot keep at least six feet apart. That applies to restaurants, bars and other popular gathering spots.
Conventions, sports stadiums and performance venues were allowed to reopen July 1 under distancing, sanitizing and signage rules. But Kemp has suggested he could pull the plug on fall sports like football if people disregard wearing masks.
Mask-wearing in Georgia has been a testy subject in recent weeks. Kemp remains under pressure to impose mandatory masking requirements as positive COVID-19 cases continue rising in the state, and several cities have ordered residents to wear facial coverings in public.
The governor’s statewide rules so far have “strongly encouraged” voluntary mask-wearing even as many health experts and local elected officials have urged Kemp to take a mandatory approach or at least let counties and cities set their own masking rules.
To date, Kemp’s orders on COVID-19 have required city and county governments to adopt the state’s rules rather than impose their own. That scenario has caused tension in cities like Atlanta and Savannah, where local officials recently required residents to wear masks.
Last week, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a citywide masking requirement that argued the governor’s statewide orders do not explicitly address mask mandates, posing a legal loophole for local governments to adopt their own measures.
Kemp’s office has dismissed the Atlanta mask mandate as unenforceable.