By Beau Evans, Staff Writer, Capitol Beat News Service
Amid the push to curb coronavirus, a statewide shelter-in-place order that will shutter in-person patronizing of bars, gyms, restaurants, theaters and many other activities is set to begin at 6 p.m. Friday and last through April 13.
Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order Thursday evening that exempts a range of activities deemed “essential services” like food and medical supply pick-ups and deliveries, critical infrastructure and those that help maintain minimum business operations.
Many types of businesses deemed essential will remain open but under tightened rules to keep work areas clean and for people to keep six feet of distance at minimum between each other, as well as a maximum of 10 people per any given space.
Restaurants will have to close in-person dining areas, but food pick-ups and deliveries will be allowed. People in Georgia will also be able to travel to grocery stores, medical appointments and pharmacies, according to the governor’s office.
“Preference should be given to online ordering, home delivery and curbside pick-up services wherever possible as opposed to in-store shopping,” the order says.
Exercising is allowed outside so long as people keep their distance from each other, the order says.
Critical infrastructure, per federal guidelines, includes health-care sectors, law enforcement and first-responder agencies, food and agriculture industries, energy companies, water and sewer utilities, trucking, public transit, information technology and more.
The order also requires rules at businesses that remain open, including health screenings, hand washing, staggered shifts and teleworking where possible.
Gov. Brian Kemp announced Wednesday he would sign the order following changes to federal modeling and guidelines earlier this week that account for the fact that the respiratory virus can spread from infected persons who do not show symptoms.
As of noon Thursday, more than 5,400 Georgians had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic. It had killed 176 patients from Georgia.
Kemp also signed an executive order Wednesday to close in-person classes for all Georgia public schools for the rest of the current school year. Thousands of schools across the state are poised to lean on online instruction to finish the spring term.
Per the order, enforcing the shelter-in-place will be left to Georgia State Patrol officers and any state agency members deputized by the governor or the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.
Those officials, along with state Department of Public Health officers, will have authority to close any business or organization not complying with the order. Individual violators will be charged with a misdemeanor.
At a news conference Wednesday, Kemp called revised guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on asymptomatic spreading of coronavirus as “a game changer.”
“We are taking action to protect our hospitals, to help our medical providers and prepare for the patient surge that we know is coming,” Kemp said Wednesday. “Now is the time to fight and continue to be strong and courageous.”
The governor’s shelter-in-place order follows mounting pressure from health experts and politicians from both parties who have called for a statewide approach. Up to this point, Kemp has largely deferred to city and county authorities to decide whether to issue stay-at-home orders for their areas.
Kemp drew criticism Thursday from local officials and political opponents who blasted his reliance on this week’s new federal guidelines, arguing the governor and state health officials should have known much sooner about the ability of the virus to spread without symptoms.
Officials with the governor’s office stressed Kemp’s decision was also based heavily on the worsening strain hospitals are facing with shortages in protective gear and life-saving equipment, as well as new projections for patient capacity at Georgia hospitals to peak later this month.
In a news release Thursday, the state Department of Public Health pointed to information from CDC Robert Redfield that as many as 25% of people infected with coronavirus do not show symptoms and can be infectious up to 48 hours before symptoms appear. Redfield provided that information on Monday, the state public health agency noted.
The best way to halt the spreading virus and ease the burden for hospitals is for everyone to keep their distance from each other and practice good sanitary habits, said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner.
“Until now, containing the spread of COVID-19 has been based on early detection and isolation of people with symptoms of the virus,” Toomey said in a statement Thursday. “Social distancing and keeping people apart from each other are now more than just recommendations; they are the best weapons we have to stop the spread of COVID-19.”