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Opinion: Be optimistic, but be cautious
Lifting of Georgia COVID restrictions doesn’t mean we’re back to normal
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Pedestrians walk along downtown Gainesville Thursday, April 8, 2021, as people enter the square for lunch and shopping. - photo by Scott Rogers

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday officially declared that “Georgia is open for business,” as his latest executive order eliminated some COVID-19 related restrictions that had been in place for months.

While not all state mandates intended to slow spread of the disease have been lifted, many were removed by the latest in a year-long series of executive orders from the governor, allowing us to edge ever closer to some return to normalcy.

Among other things, the latest order eliminates the previous ban on large gatherings, eliminates any remaining “shelter-in-place” mandates, reduces the social distancing requirements for public places such as restaurants, theaters and gyms, and eliminates law enforcement’s authority to close businesses for not complying with certain COVID restrictions.

In a video message, Kemp said the state had “broken economic development” records despite the pandemic, and is “taking steps every day to return to normal.” He went on to caution that a lot of  businesses in Georgia could not survive through another year similar to the last.

It was certainly encouraging to have the governor lift many of the restrictions with which Georgians have dealt for months, and we too look forward to a highly anticipated return to something akin to “normal,” though we expect things will still be different in many regards for months, and maybe years, to come.

Despite the good news from the governor’s office, it’s important to remember that we aren’t out of the woods yet. COVID is still very much a concern every day, and residents of the state enthusiastic to celebrate a victory of perseverance would be smart to do so with a strong dose of common sense.

We’ve come too far to go backward now.

Remember, too, that while state restrictions may have been lifted, individual businesses may still impose their own rules and regulations for doing business. If a store chooses to only serve those who wear a mask, respect that choice. If you prefer not to wear a mask, shop elsewhere. If a restaurant still wants to limit seating beyond the state requirements, that’s the business owner’s prerogative. And just because the ban on large crowds has been lifted doesn’t automatically mean venues will immediately reopen to the masses with public events.

The rate at which the state, and the nation, is being vaccinated against COVID has gone a long way to ease concerns and reduce caseloads. But there are still millions to vaccinate, and there are still areas where the number of cases is going up despite the vaccines’ existence. Michigan, for example, is seeing a huge and largely inexplicable spike in cases. We don’t want that to happen here.

The COVID situation in Georgia has improved dramatically in recent weeks, but even so the death toll continues to climb daily. On Thursday alone, the state saw some 1,156 confirmed cases diagnosed, with 125 hospitalizations and 59 deaths. In total, deaths in the state confirmed as caused by COVID are near the 17,000 mark, with another 2,500 suspected as being COVID deaths.

As you look for ways to return to normal, do so with the sort of caution that by now is second nature to most of us. Wear the mask, keep your distance, wash your hands.

Expect, too, that while the state may be “open for business,” according to the governor, business may not be the same as it was a year ago. In fact, it’s not likely to be for a long time yet.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

Thousands have been out of work for many months. It will take a while to get those people back into the job market in order to fill available positions. Many businesses ready to reopen are now hampered by a shortage of employees.

At the same time, the international supply chain has been severely interrupted by the events of the past year. Inventories on some products are low, or non-existent. The time needed to acquire new inventory is unpredictable, often longer than in the past. Your favorite store may not have your favorite item; your local restaurant may have a limited menu; you may still be forced to choose between the things you really need as opposed to those you merely want.

“Normal” is going to have a different definition for a while yet.

In his video message, the governor issued a reminder of the importance of getting the vaccine. That’s one step we can take as individuals to make a difference.

Be smart. Be patient. Be aware ... but be excited. It’s been a long, painful journey to reach this point, but there’s cause for optimism for the weeks ahead.

It may not be business as usual, but Georgia is again open for business.

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