Governor extends public health emergency, COVID-19 guidelines

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp has issued a new executive order extending the state’s public health emergency over COVID-19.

Kemp said in a news release Monday that the new order extends the emergency until August 11, 2020.

“As we continue our fight against COVID-19 in Georgia, it is vital that Georgians continue to heed public health guidance by wearing a mask, washing their hands regularly, and practicing social distancing,” Kemp said. “While we continue to see a decreasing case fatality rate, expanded testing, and adequate hospital surge capacity, in recent days, Georgia has seen an increase in new cases reported and current hospitalizations.”

The governor has also extended social distancing guidelines until July 15.

“Executive Order 06.29.20.02 continues to require social distancing, bans gatherings of more than fifty people unless there is six feet between each person, outlines mandatory criteria for businesses, and requires sheltering in place for those living in long-term care facilities and the medically fragile,” Kemp said. “The order also outlines that the State Board of Education must provide ‘rules, regulations, and guidance for the operation of public elementary and secondary schools for local boards of education’ in accordance with guidance the Department of Public Health.”

The latest numbers from the Georgia Department of Public Health show there are 79,417 confirmed cases in Georgia.

As of Monday, 1,359 people have been hospitalized because of the virus and 2,784 people have died from the coronavirus across the state.

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The current executive order allows live event venues like the Fox Theater to reopen.

The Fox told Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray that they’ll be staying closed for now. The Cobb Galleria Center said it plans to open for business again July 13.

But the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau told Gray that conventions, for the most part, are still off.

“In the short term when you have a risk that you are going to have a meeting and not many people are going to show up, I think meeting planners have decided to focus on 2021,” said William Pate, head of the Atlanta Convention Visitors Bureau.

As Georgia continues to roll back COVID-19 restrictions, Georgia State University public health professor Dr. Harry Heiman said with the increase in COVID-19 cases, the governor should be doing the opposite.

“For a public health person it’s very disturbing because I know where this story goes,” Heiman said. “The data is very clear that we’re moving in the wrong direction and without strong policy action on the part of our political and public health leaders, it’s going to go from bad to worse.”

Kemp remains against rules requiring people to wear masks or face coverings.

“There’s some people that don’t want to wear a mask and I’m sensitive to that,” Kemp said.

But the governor is launching a new push to encourage face masks.

He tweeted on Monday, “Wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands.”

Kemp plans to travel to towns across the state this week, such as Albany, Dalton and Savannah, to encourage Georgians to wear face masks.

This week the state will also distribute three million cloth facial coverings to local governments and schools.