Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday, May 12, extended the closure of all bars, nightclubs and performance venues through the end of the month. But he also relaxed some restrictions on childcare facilities and restaurants amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Bars, nightclubs and performance venues around the state have been shuttered since a statewide shelter-in-place order went into effect April 3. That order expired April 30, but those businesses have remained closed, and Kemp said keeping them closed through the end of May will “enhance health outcomes and give folks the opportunity to prepare for safe reopening in the future.”
The governor also extended social distancing requirements for several types of businesses and a ban on large gatherings through at least the end of the month.
“All Georgians must continue to follow social distancing, and gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned unless there is at least six feet between each person,” Kemp said during a press conference Tuesday at the state Capitol in Atlanta. “The gatherings ban applies to all non-critical infrastructure businesses, local governments, and organizations of all types, including social groups, informal get-togethers and recreational sports, just to name a few.
"We continue to strongly encourage people to wear face coverings when out in public, and we thank everyone for their willingness to do the right thing.”
Kemp late last month signed an executive order allowing many close-contact businesses to reopen and restaurants to resume dine-in services if they are able to meet numerous safety requirements and guidelines.
Under the newly-revised order, restaurants can now expand their seating capacity from 10 people per 500 square feet of public space to 10 people per 300 square feet, and they can increase party size at tables from six to 10 people.
Kemp also announced he was doubling the number of children who can be in a single room at a childcare facility from 10 to 20. Meanwhile, summer day camps will be allowed to begin operating Thursday, May 14, provided they meet a minimum of 32 “mandatory” criteria.
Kemp’s latest moves come as Georgia has rapidly increased its number of tests conducted to more than 262,000 as of Tuesday afternoon and also seen a correlating increase in cumulative confirmed coronavirus cases. As of 7 p.m. Tuesday, there were 34,848 confirmed cases and 1,494 confirmed deaths around the state, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The mortality rate of 4.3 percent has held steady the last two weeks. The latest numbers include 232 confirmed cases and seven confirmed deaths among Barrow County residents.
There is a lag in the data of up to two weeks due to the way the information is reported and verified, state officials have said.
In Barrow County alone, seven deaths of residents and 90 more positive resident and employee cases at Winder Health Care and Rehabilitation have been reported by the nursing home and the Georgia Department of Community Health since the start of the outbreak.
According to the latest DCH report released Tuesday, 4,524 residents across 357 long-term care facilities around the state have tested positive, and 727 residents have died. Another 1,932 employees of those facilities have been infected.
Kemp said upwards of 46,000 residents have yet to be tested and the state is encouraging all long-term care facilities to test their all of their residents per federal guidance.
Kemp has cited declines in new-case and hospitalization rates to bolster his reopening moves — even as public health experts have said it is still too early to fully gauge the ramifications of the decisions.
Federal health officials testified before a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday that states reopening too soon could trigger more outbreaks. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said the nationwide death toll is likely higher than the reported 81,000 as of Tuesday afternoon and would continue to mount if governments move too aggressively toward a full reopening.
“We’ll continue to follow the data, the advice of public health officials and best practices,” Kemp said Tuesday, reiterating that he is continuing to balance the public health crisis with efforts to rejuvenate a battered economy.
The state also received its first shipment Tuesday afternoon from the federal government of remdesivir. Fauci and other federal officials have touted the antiviral drug as showing “moderate” success in slowing down virus symptoms and cutting down the duration of the illness in some tests. The state received 1,200 vials, and Kemp said state officials will be working on guidelines for how to distribute those and which patients would be considered safe for it to be administered to.
The state also has plans to expand its contact-tracing workforce with the goal to moving from 250 to 1,000 workers over the next few weeks.
Training is underway for 200 new contact tracers and 70 medical students and M.P.H. candidates who joined the DPH in the past two weeks, the department announced in a news release Tuesday.
The 250 workers currently deployed have contacted 3,800 people who have or have had COVID-19 so far and contacted nearly 13,000 people those people were known to have close contact with, according to the release.
The state’s new Healthy Georgia Collaborative online monitoring tool will allow DPH staffers to contact those who have tested positive and work with them to recall any recent close contacts they’ve had in an effort to isolate and slow the spread. Officials emphasized that all data will remain private.