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Many types of businesses have reopened with precautions, the number of people who can gather has increased to 25 and Georgia’s shelter-in-place order for the elderly and medically fragile has been lifted.
While the threat of COVID-19 may have seemed to lessen, local health officials still recommend precautions such as wearing masks, washing hands and staying six feet away from others.
“We are encouraging everyone to be safe and responsible as they begin to move about more in the community,” Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, chair of Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Infection Prevention and Control committee, said in a statement.
Mannepalli said people should continue to take precautions so hospitals do not see increased COVID-19 case numbers.
Precautions to take
As some restrictions are lifted, medical professionals advise familiar precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Avoid large gatherings of more than 25
Maintain six feet of distance from others
Wear masks in public places
Wash hands regularly
Source: Northeast Georgia Health System
The Northeast Georgia Health System has been treating fewer COVID-19 patients than it was toward the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday, June 11, the system was treating 64 patients at its facilities. One month earlier, on May 11, that number was 112. On April 24, the earliest data available on the NGHS website, the system was treating 132 patients.
In Georgia, people 65 and older are still required to shelter in place if they fall under any of several categories:
People living in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, inpatient hospice, assisted living communities, personal care homes, intermediate care homes, community living arrangements and community integration homes
People with chronic lung disease
People with moderate to severe asthma
People with severe heart disease
People of any age with class III or severe obesity
People diagnosed with diabetes, liver disease
People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
Gov. Brian Kemp announced the new rules Thursday, June 11. A ban effective June 16 will prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people unless there is six feet of space between people.
“This rule does not apply to critical infrastructure entities, incidental or transitory groupings, or cohabitating individuals,” according to a news release from Kemp’s office.
Effective June 16, in restaurants and dining rooms, there will no longer be a party maximum for the number of people who can sit together or a limit on the number of patrons allowed per square foot. Employees at restaurants, dining rooms, banquet facilities, private event facilities and private reception venues are only required to wear face coverings when they are interacting with patrons. Bars will be allowed to have 50 people, up from a limit of 25, or 35% of total listed fire capacity, whichever number is higher.
Mannepalli said it is not yet known if the virus will see a second wave of increased cases, but health care providers are preparing.
“As much as we would all like to know what the coming months will bring, there really is no way to know whether we may see a second wave or when it might occur,” she said. “We continue to read the latest research and use predictive models so we will be prepared for a surge in patients in case we see one.”
Local Department of Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer said being cautious could prevent a second wave.
“We all need to continue to be vigilant in practicing good hygiene to help limit the spread of the virus,” he said in a statement. “If everyone follows the guidelines for prevention, we can greatly reduce the chance for the virus to make a comeback.”
People should stay home as much as possible and avoid large gatherings, wear masks in public places, maintain six feet of distance from others, wash hands regularly and cover their mouth if they cough, and seek health care if they need it.
Public Health has published COVID-19 guidance for several types of establishments, including child care facilities, restaurants, churches and places of worship, and swimming pools.
Mannepalli said someone’s risk of infection increases as the number of people they come in contact with increases.
“That’s why we’re all encouraged to limit gatherings to no more than 25 people and even then maintain six feet of separation from others,” she said. “It’s also the reason behind limited numbers of people inside a store or restaurant.”
If everyone in the space is wearing a mask, the risk also goes down, she said.
“Wearing masks reduces risk of transmission, so going into a business, restaurant or church where all employees and patrons are wearing masks presents a lower risk than visiting one where the majority aren’t wearing masks,” Mannepalli said. “You should also remember to use good hand hygiene, including washing hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.”
In churches and places of worship, Public Health recommends people be spaced six feet apart both side-to-side and front-to-back, local department spokesman Dave Palmer said. Rather than handing out bulletins or worship guides, information should be projected onto a screen, and words should be projected for singing rather than using hymnals. Ushers should open doors and direct people to seats, and places of worship should consider limiting services to 30 or 40 minutes, Palmer said.
When grocery shopping, using online ordering and pickup options is best, Palmer said. If people go into the store, they should follow the store guidance for traffic flow and minimize their contact with others.
Businesses should limit customers per square foot, clean surfaces and areas frequently, direct traffic through stores, place barriers and space out lines at checkout, wear face coverings and monitor employee health. Patrons have a responsibility to prevent spread of the virus as well, Palmer said.
Outdoor activities such as hiking, biking or boating where social distancing can be maintained are safe, Palmer said. Businesses with fewer patrons are also safer, but people should sanitize their hands if they handle items.