A simplified translation of the government- speak in Gov. Brian Kemp’s orders ending most COVID-19 related restrictions might read: Georgia, it’s time to eat, drink and be merry.
Indeed, as you read this, many of the constraints that Kemp imposed beginning more than a year ago already have been lifted or will be gone by the end of the month.
While public health experts don’t want to be seen as a bunch of killjoys, they do fear that opening too much too fast will send upward curves that were trending downward but have leveled off in recent weeks.
Kemp’s revised orders, to take effect April 8-30, remove limits on the numbers who may gather at restaurants, bars and clubs. Those who want to get up close and personal will be relieved to know that instead of 6 feet, the physical distancing order will be half that at the movie theater and 3 1/2 feet for restaurant and bar seating. The folks who serve food and drink will be required to continue wearing
masks when engaging with customers. Also, that sweaty person at the gym will
be allowed to stand closer to you.
The governor’s order also prevents local police departments from shutting down businesses that refuse to follow the latest updates on distancing and sanitation. That said, each establishment can make its own decisions about the degree to which it wants to throw open the doors.
Meanwhile, the shelter-in-place order for residents of long-term care
facilities, which dates to mid-March 2020, also is being lifted.
Kemp extended the state’s public health emergency order through April 30, but also retained the authority to issue further COVID-related executive orders.
Georgia joins an increasing number of states relaxing or removing restrictions imposed beginning in March 2020 as the novel coronavirus swept across the nation. Relatively speaking, Georgia was among the latest to engage in a lockdown and earliest to begin reopening shuttered businesses and attractions. Unlike two of those states, Mississippi and Texas, which have lifted mask mandates, Kemp never ordered a mask mandate.
On March 27, Kemp repeated his common refrain. “Georgians know the right thing to do,” he said. “They know the value in best practices, but they also can’t wait to return to their normal life. Loosening these restrictions is the next critical step in that process, and it signals an even bigger light at the end of the tunnel.”
Public health experts just want to make sure that the light in the tunnel isn’t headed back toward Georgians. Among them is Amber Schmidtke, a public health researcher and microbiologist, whose COVID-related data crunching often is cited by her colleagues and journalists.
“Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all a lot lower than they were in January. But they have leveled off at a high level. Meanwhile, only about 13 percent of the Georgia population is fully vaccinated,” Schmidtke told the AJT. “Until more people are fully vaccinated, the best tools we have to fight the pandemic are non pharmaceutical interventions. These are things like wearing masks, social distancing, hand and cough hygiene, staying home when you’re sick, etc.”
Schmidtke continued, “I worry that with the governor’s decision to lift all remaining pandemic restrictions, the public will get the false impression that the pandemic is over, abandoning non-pharmaceutical interventions all together. But COVID-19 isn’t going down without a fight. . . . It seems too soon to be lifting these restrictions, and I wish this could have waited at least another month. That way, even the first newly eligible Georgians to be vaccinated [those ages 16 and older] could get through their second doses.”
Georgia continues to rank poorly among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in terms of vaccinations. According to data from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, as of April 6, 26.5 percent of all Georgians (a population numbering 10.61 million) had received at least one dose of vaccine. This ranks Georgia near the bottom of the states, ahead of only Alabama and Mississippi in that category.
In terms of the total population percentage fully vaccinated, Georgia ranked last
among the states, at 13.4 percent. Adjusted for age, 17.5 percent of Georgians 18-and-older and 52.4 percent of those 65 and older had been fully vaccinated.
The federal government allocates vaccine based on a state’s total population. Georgia has received some 6.66 million doses of the vaccines allocated by the federal government, and 4.28 million doses have been administered. That’s a rate of 64 percent, which ranks Georgia ahead of only Alabama in that category.
According to the CDC, there have been 1.04 million cases of COVID-19 in the state, contributing to 18,625 deaths