After Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent executive order loosening COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and social distancing, The Times caught up with local restaurants, businesses and governments to see what the changes could mean for them.
Under the governor’s directive which took effect on Thursday, April 8, businesses do not have to enforce social distancing requirements or bans on large gatherings. The order also eliminates shelter-in-place orders, extends the reduced distance requirements for the state’s restaurants, bars, and movie theaters and between people at group fitness classes.
In a pre-recorded video posted on Twitter on April 7, Kemp said that “Georgia is open for business,” and the decision to loosen restrictions is due to trends in Georgians getting vaccinated and lower cases in the state.
So far, 4.4 million vaccines have been administered in the state, with 59,033 vaccines administered in Hall County, as of press time on Thursday, April 8.
The new executive order says restaurants, bars, banquet facilities, private event facilities and private reception venues shall implement seating arrangements to ensure at least 42 inches of separation.
"We are probably still going to be wearing masks through the rest of the year, honestly,” said 2 Dog Restaurant co-owner Tina Roberts. “We're going to give it a little bit longer just to make sure everybody gets their shots."
Roberts said the front of the house will be wearing masks. Once all of the kitchen staff has their COVID-19 vaccine shots, they will be allowed to be out of their masks except when coming to the front, Roberts said.
Roberts said they have already added a pair of tables and will slowly add some more, but they are still looking for staff.
"It's not only space. It's staff. We have to have staff to provide the level of service that people become used to from 2 Dog,” Roberts said.
Scott Dixon of Scott’s Downtown said that he had not had a chance to fully brief himself on the changes other than the 42-inch rule.
"We will definitely relax up to the standards that we're allowed to relax up to at this point,” Dixon said. “Many of our guests have expressed their happiness with relaxation of everything, and they're ready."
Dixon said they will likely add some tables back.
"We've always been clean, but some of the extra stuff that we've done, we'll probably continue doing for a bit longer as well just to make sure that everybody's safe and healthy,” he said.
Hall County government officials said the county will be coordinating its eventual reopening strategies under federal directives. For now, officials added, no major changes are in store.
“We are aware of the governor's latest executive order and will be using it, along with information from the CDC, White House and local health officials, to make decisions regarding changes in Hall County operations that are currently in place in order to protect the public from the coronavirus,” said Katie Crumley, Hall County Government spokesperson.
Crumley told The Times that the county is currently evaluating its current COVID-19 protocols but said that any changes to county-specific COVID guidelines and mandates will be made public and discussed by county officials.
“We are in the process of carefully evaluating our current guidelines and procedures, which include social distancing requirements and mask mandates for employees in public spaces, to determine what changes are warranted,” she said. “Please know that any changes in operations will be thoughtfully considered by county officials and then thoroughly communicated to the public.”
Gainesville officials said that the governor’s directives will be a part of their “planning” efforts for future events, such as the First Friday Concert Series, which returns on May 7.
“(The executive order) allows us to continue our planning efforts for the return of the First Friday concert series in May,” said Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey. “However, these planning efforts will still have social distancing measures in place.”
Flowery Branch officials said they are continuing to adjust their day-to-day operations based on the recommendation from Kemp and the CDC. But, the city is still requiring social distancing and mask wearing efforts during meetings and in city buildings.
With events like the 5K Spring Fun Run and the Farmer’s Market coming up in May, said Flowery Branch City Clerk Vickie Short, events will still be held but will look “considerably different than in prior years” in regards to COVID guidelines.
Dave Palmer, Georgia Department of Public Health spokesperson for District 2 said that public health recommendations will vary for those who are vaccinated and not vaccinated.
The CDC states that fully vaccinated people can travel, both domestically and internationally without getting tested or self-quarantining before and after their trips.
However, the CDC still recommends that vaccinated people take precautions, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing, in public settings and when visiting unvaccinated households.
Additionally, the CDC recommends that people continue to avoid medium and large in-person gatherings.
As for unvaccinated people, health officials continue to urge precautions in curbing the virus.
“For people who have yet to get vaccinated – continue precautions of wearing a mask, physically distancing, washing hands and isolating at home if sick,” Palmer said.