State Watch

Georgia to lift stay-at-home order for most residents Friday

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thursday that he will lift a statewide shelter-in-place order for most of the state’s residents Friday.

Kemp will continue requiring elderly and “medically fragile” Georgians to continue sheltering in place through June 12 and allow businesses to keep numerous restrictions in place through May 13, according to the newspaper.

The governor told the newspaper he had based his decision on an increase in testing and hospital capacity.

“What we’ve done has worked,” he told the Journal-Constitution. “It’s given us time to build our hospital infrastructure capacity, get ventilators and ramp up testing. That’s what really drove our decision.”

Kemp also urged Georgians leaving their homes to wear masks in public, but said the need was less urgent in areas with more space to maintain distance such as parks and beaches.

“It isn’t as if a switch has been flipped and everything has opened,” Kathleen Toomey, the commissioner of Georgia’s Public Health Department, told the Journal-Constitution. “We’re moving into this phase carefully and cautiously and encouraging social distancing, wearing a mask in public.”

The order, like Kemp’s previous mandates, bars cities and counties within the state from imposing stricter orders of their own, which has caught the ire of some local and city officials who have said they need more restrictive measures to remain in place locally.

“I do understand the other side of the coin so to speak,” Toomsboro Mayor Joyce Denson said in a Thursday letter to Kemp, according to the newspaper. “But I also want us all to remember that lives are at stake and if we move too fast there will be a continuous increase.”

Kemp told the Journal-Constitution such criticism “comes with the territory” and that local officials are free to take action against residents they feel are not adhering to guidelines.

“They have the enforcement powers here. They can take action if people are not heeding the advice that Dr. Toomey and I have put in place. These protocols work. People are following them,” he said.

Georgia was one of the earliest states to announce the first phases of reopening, prompting worry from members of the state’s African American community who have noted the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the state’s black population and raised concerns they will bear the brunt of any recurrence of the virus.

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