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Georgia residents are now ordered to shelter in place through the end of the month.
Gov. Brian Kemp on April 8 extended the order, which went into effect April 3 and was set to expire April 13, as the number of coronavirus infections confirmed statewide neared 10,000, including 228 in Hall County as of noon April 8.
Under the order, people are only allowed to leave home for essential activities or travel. Outdoor activities are permitted, as long as people who do not live together stay six feet apart. Essential activities include getting food, household supplies or medication, as well as seeking medical, behavioral health or emergency services. Essential businesses allowed to stay open include grocery stores, pharmacies and health care providers. Some other businesses, including fitness centers, theaters, salons, and bars and nightclubs, are required to close. Restaurant dining rooms must be closed, although restaurants can provide delivery, drive-thru or takeout service.
Kemp also banned vacation short-term rentals through April 30 in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus between states or areas within Georgia.
The order will not apply to rentals with fully paid agreements made before April 9.
While law enforcement will be enforcing the order, they will not be authorized to evict people. The order “shall not be construed in any way to prevent owners from personally occupying their own properties,” and it will not apply to leases for properties used as a person’s primary residence.
Kemp also announced he's requiring nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to take more rigid steps to screen staff and patients for symptoms and to keep facilities disinfected.
“While I’m encouraged by some of the recent data, we still have incredible challenges ahead of us,” Kemp said during an afternoon news conference at the state Capitol.
Kemp also renewed the public health emergency declared last month, extending it through May 13. It had been set to expire Monday.
The shelter-in-place order applies to residents and requires them to stay home unless they are doing an essential activity or working at an essential business, while the state of emergency adjusts some government regulations to address the pandemic
“This measure will allow us to continue to deploy resources to communities in need, lend support to frontline medical providers and keep preparing as we brace for potential patient surge in our health care facilities,” Kemp said in a statement about the state of emergency. “We deeply appreciate the hard work of Georgians who are sheltering in place, using social distancing and helping us flatten the curve.”
The state of emergency, first declared March 14, gives the governor emergency powers to enforce laws and regulations relating to emergency management. Kemp can also take operational control of civil forces and helpers in the state.
Under the executive order, state health officials can also establish protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and implement quarantine and isolation for Georgians exposed.
The Georgia Composite Medical Board and Georgia Board of Nursing are also able to grant temporary licenses to applicants who are in good standing in other states.
The state legislature ratified the emergency declaration in March.
State lawmakers last month granted Kemp temporary emergency powers and allowed the governor to renew them without reconvening the full legislature for a vote. Lawmakers had planned for an April 15 special session to consider any extension by Kemp, but House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said that wouldn't happen now. They both issued statements supporting the extension.
Several legislators have tested positive for the virus since they last met.
Wednesday's higher case count was the result of 5,000 more tests, as the state continues to try to ramp up testing capacity.
The highest per-capita concentration of cases continued to be in southwest Georgia. Randolph County, with 82 confirmed cases, reports an infection rate more than 12 times the state average according to Associated Press calculations. Dougherty County, which includes Albany, now has the state's second-highest infection rate, with nearly 1,000 cases in a county with less than 100,000 residents. Dougherty County has recorded 61 deaths, the most statewide.
Fulton County, the state's most populous county, continues to report the largest number of cases with more than 1,200 overall.
Kemp's shelter-at-home order last week also rolled back any emergency restrictions imposed by cities or counties that went beyond the limitations ordered by the governor. Kemp said Wednesday that all provisions of that order will remain in effect through April 30.
The Associated Press contributed.