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Kemp extends Georgia’s coronavirus restrictions with minor changes

By Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday extended the state’s coronavirus restrictions an additional two weeks, signing an order that relaxes rules for restaurant and bar employees exposed to the disease.

Kemp stopped short of making more significant changes to state guidelines set to expire this week, rejecting calls to impose new limits on gatherings while also saying he’s not yet ready to scale back broader restrictions that have been in place for months.

The new rules, which expire Oct. 15, allow restaurant and bar employees to return to work after 24 hours if they’re confirmed to be symptom-free after they were confirmed or suspected of contracting COVID-19. Previous rules required them to stay away for three days; the new limits adhere to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest order also extends deadlines for high school graduates to submit ACT or SAT scores to qualify for the Zell Miller and Hope scholarships. Separately, he also extended a public health emergency until Nov. 9.

Georgia’s efforts to stem the spread of the disease are showing signs of traction. The latest report from President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force moved Georgia out of its most severe “red” category for the first time in months.

The state has reported declining cases in nine out of the past 10 weeks, stretching back to mid-July, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data shows. The current seven-day rolling average of new cases of 1,135 is down about 70% from the July peak, the AJC analysis found.

Kemp’s previous 51-page order, signed two weeks ago, for the first time set up a three-phase system for in-person visits to senior care facilities based on the rate of coronavirus testing, the length of time the home has gone without a new case and other factors such as community spread.

Those rules remain in place, along with renewed safety guidelines for restaurants, bars and other businesses to follow to stay open. It also extends a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people, which has become a focus of public health experts who have encouraged the governor to impose stricter limits.

Kemp on Tuesday rejected that notion, saying that his discussions with Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner, convinced him that Georgians might rebel.

“It’s a great idea, but people are over that. One of the things that Dr. Toomey and I have tried to do is to make sure that we’re putting things out there that people can buy into,” he said at a stop in Dawsonville. “And to go backward on that, I just don’t think people are going to comply with it.”