Gov. Kemp extends COVID-19 orders as cases fall in Georgia

FILE-In this Friday, July 17, 2020 file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a coronavirus briefing at the Capitol, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File) (John Bazemore, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

ATLANTA – Georgia’s governor is extending the two main executive orders that govern Georgia’s response to COVID-19.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Monday signed a 15-day extension of the order that mandates requirements on social distancing, bans on gatherings of more than 50 people unless there is six feet between each person and lists other rules about operating businesses and nonprofit groups. Those who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as people deemed medically fragile, must continue to shelter in place through Sept. 15.

The Republican Kemp also extended the underlying state of emergency, which gives him powers to make other orders, through Oct. 10. Lawmakers in March, when they approved Kemp declaring a public health state of emergency, agreed to let him extend the authority as the governor saw necessary.

In extending the orders, Kemp made no changes. That means he did not update his previous order to declare teachers as “critical infrastructure workers” which would exempt them from requirements to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to COVID-19. School superintendents have been lobbying for that authority, which could let them order teachers back to work to avoid interruptions to in-person instruction. At least three Georgia school districts have already made the declaration, including the Floyd County district, which was specifically advised not to do so in an email from a lawyer in the governor’s office.

Kemp also made no changes to the limited authority he has granted to cities and counties to order people to wear masks in public places. Kemp has said local governments can’t enforce those orders inside businesses unless businesses want the governments to do so.

More than 270,000 COVID-19 infections have been confirmed in Georgia, while 5,633 deaths have been recorded. The average number of new infections recorded over the past seven days fell close to 2,000 on Monday, the lowest level since June 30. Spread is still rapid in Georgia compared to other places, though. Georgia is the sixth-highest state in new cases per capita over the last 14 days, according to figures kept by The Associated Press.

Chattahoochee County, home to much of Fort Benning, is the second-highest county nationwide for new cases per capita, over the last 14 days. Stewart County, with an immigration detention facility, Baldwin County, home to Georgia College & State University, and Clinch County are also in the top 25 counties nationwide for new cases per capita.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 fell below 2,000 on Saturday for the first time since July 6, a number Kemp touted Monday as he signed his extended orders.

About 10.3% of Georgia’s tests for COVID-19 came back positive over the past seven days, compared to 5.7% nationwide. Experts say anything over 5% may indicate that large numbers of cases are going undetected. The number of new tests reported has been falling steadily for the past week.

The number of new deaths recorded remains elevated, averaging more than 60 a day. Reports of deaths typically lag behind new infections and hospitalizations.