By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday he plans to extend mandatory statewide closures for bars and nightclubs in Georgia amid ongoing concerns over coronavirus, which to date has killed nearly 1,500 people in the state and sickened thousands more.
But the governor will allow summer day camps to open and relax some restrictions on restaurants in the coming days, as state health officials continue seeing downward trends in hospital admissions, ventilator use and infection rates tied to COVID-19.
The update comes less than two weeks after Kemp decided to let Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expire for all residents in the state, except for persons who are age 65 and older, living in long-term elderly care facilities or with chronic health conditions. Those individuals are still under a shelter-in-place order set to last through June 12.
On Tuesday, the governor again urged everyone in Georgia to seek diagnostic testing for coronavirus to improve the state’s data collection, which has seen a big boost in recent weeks following an increase in testing. He noted the rate of positive COVID-19 test results compared to negative results is declining daily, marking a slowdown in the spread of the virus – but that Georgians should not get complacent.
“We’re in a good place,” Kemp said Tuesday. “We just want to keep these numbers moving in the right direction.”
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, more than 34,700 people in Georgia had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 1,465 Georgians.
At a news conference late Tuesday, Kemp said he has issued a new executive order requiring bars, nightclubs and live-performance venues to remain closed through the end of May. He also said existing social-distancing and sanitizing requirements at many close-contact businesses will stay in place through the rest of this month.
Restaurants, however, will be allowed to serve a maximum of 10 patrons per table instead of six, as had been required over the past several weeks. They will also be able to serve 10 patrons per 300 square feet, Kemp said.
Also, summer day camps will be allowed to open starting Thursday if they can meet 32 different sanitizing and social distancing rules, Kemp said. Overnight camps will remain prohibited for the time being.
State government employees at some agencies will start reporting back for in-person work next week, Kemp said. The General Assembly is also set to resume the 2020 legislative session on June 11, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston confirmed in a memo Tuesday.
Testing is still key to quickly identifying local COVID-19 outbreaks as businesses reopen, along with the state’s new contact-tracing program tasked with identifying all persons who interact with an infected individual.
On Tuesday, Kemp said the state has hired almost 250 contact-tracing staff and has launched an online monitoring tool for persons who test positive for COVID-19, so that they can confidentially tell officials who else they came into contact with recently to assist contact-tracing efforts.
In a new development, the governor also announced federal officials have sent Georgia its first shipment of the treatment drug remdesivir, which has been authorized for emergency use to help infected patients recover from coronavirus.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, said officials are still discussing how to best distribute the drug but that priority will be given to hospitals in areas that have seen COVID-19 outbreaks or flare-ups.
Toomey added that despite the recent encouraging data trends, Georgians need to continue keeping their distance from each other and wearing masks in public to reduce the chances for future outbreaks.
“We can ensure that our state is safe as long as everyone continues to take responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities as we continue to move forward,” Toomey said.