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Gov. Kemp eases Georgia virus rules to allow sports, conventions

(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is lifting more health-related restrictions that stemmed from COVID-19, allowing spectator sports and live performance venues to reopen and conventions to resume on July 1, subject to some restrictions.

The Republican Kemp signed the 40-page-order Thursday, just before an earlier and more restrictive order was to expire. The new order, allowed under the health care emergency authority granted Kemp by lawmakers, runs through the end of June.

The move comes amid an uptick in reported coronavirus infections and deaths in Georgia. The state has recorded more than 700 daily infections, on average, for most of June. It’s the longest period that infections have run that high since early May.

Georgia has recorded nearly 55,000 cases through Thursday, with 2,375 deaths. Fatalities have averaged 33 a day over the last week, one of the highest such figures since the beginning of May.

Kemp’s order also tells residents 65 or older that they no longer have to shelter in place unless they live in a long-term care facility such as a nursing home or have an underlying health condition. Residents of long-term care facilities are still locked down and visitors are still banned.

The new order abolishes the maximum size of a party at a restaurant, which had previously risen to 10, and no longer limits the number of patrons per square foot. It still requires tables to be 6 feet (2 meters) apart. Restaurant workers now only have to wear masks when interacting with patrons, not in kitchens or elsewhere. And bars can now have up to 50 people, up from 25 people, or 35% of the listed fire capacity, whichever is greater. Self-service can resume at salad bars and buffets that provide sneeze guards and hand sanitizer. Buffets are supposed to enforce social distancing and regularly replace shared utensils.

Restaurants remain under 35 operating conditions. Rules for other businesses also remain in effect through June 30.

Effective Tuesday, there will be no limit on how many people can sit together in a party at a movie theater. Customers who haven’t made advance appointments will be allowed to walk in to personal care businesses such as barber shops and tanning salons.

The order still bans gatherings of more than 50 people unless there is at least 6 feet between each person.

Conventions of 100 or more people can begin July 1 subject to additional rules, such as screening guests for COVID-19 symptoms and staggering registration and gathering times.

Sports and live performance venues that hold less than 1,000 people will be subject to a number of restrictions, such as limiting people in all areas including private suites, and putting empty seats between patrons “to the extent practicable.” But the largest sports venues, which host more than 5,000 people, are subject only to the rules their professional, college or high school sports league has imposed. Kemp also says he’s suspending any other regulation which might prevent sports leagues from operating.

Drive-in performances where people stay in or near their cars aren’t subject to the performance venue rules.