By Beau Evans
Capitol Beat News Service
Gov. Brian Kemp moved late Thursday to ease more social distancing restrictions for businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic, including ending capacity limits for restaurants and lifting the shelter-in-place order for many people 65-years and older.
The governor is also allowing live performance venues and large convention spaces to reopen on July 1 so long as they meet some distancing and sanitizing requirements. Bars will also be allowed to have the greater of up to 50 patrons or 35% of their full capacity, starting June 16.
Professional, youth and amateur sports teams will also be allowed to resume games and practices starting June 16 so long as their respective leagues allow it, according to the governor’s office. Sports leagues have previously been advised that they may draft their own distancing and cleanliness rules.
Seniors in long-term care facilities and those with chronic health conditions including lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, severe heart diseases, compromised immune systems and diabetes are still under a shelter-in-place order through June 30.
Overnight summer camps will be allowed starting June 16 so long as campers and staff can show proof that they tested negative for coronavirus before arriving at camp. Day camps and summer school classes have already been allowed to resume.
The limit on restaurant gatherings, previously set at a maximum of 25 people, will be eliminated entirely starting June 16. Seating arrangements need to allow for six feet of space between groups, according to Kemp’s order.
“For salad bars and buffets, a worker can use cafeteria-style service to serve patrons or the establishment can provide hand sanitizer, install a sneeze guard, enforce social distancing and regularly replace shared utensils to allow patron self-service,” said a news release from Kemp’s office.
Bars, bowling alleys, barbers, salons, gyms, movie theaters and amusement parks will be allowed to reopen as of Friday if they have not done so yet, pending certain safety requirements.
The latest round of restriction easing comes as Kemp continues pulling back on drastic measures put in place in April to curb the spread of coronavirus. He has cited the need to jump-start the state’s flagging economy, touting a decrease in hospitalizations and infection rates to back his decisions.
As of Thursday afternoon, nearly 55,000 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 2,375 Georgians.
Health experts across the country have warned local communities could see an uptick in infections following Memorial Day festivities late last month and as state officials peel back business and distancing requirements.
Those experts, including Georgia’s top public health official, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, have urged people to continue wearing face masks and keep their distance from each other when in public areas.
“We are still battling a pandemic and we need to stay vigilant,” Kemp said at a news conference last week. “Continue to keep your distance, wash your hands and do all the other things we have been saying for weeks and weeks now.”