Kemp bans large gatherings, orders bars closed to stem virus outbreak

Gov. Brian Kemp issued an order Monday to close down bars and nightclubs that are still open, ban gatherings of more than 10 people where social distancing isn't being practiced and require medically fragile residents to quarantine or self-isolate. Screen grab from GPB

Gov. Brian Kemp will ban gatherings that don’t adhere to the six-foot separation rule, close bars and nightclubs and require the state’s most medically fragile to stay home.

Kemp’s order, which will take effect at noon Tuesday and last for two weeks, is the strictest action the governor has taken since state lawmakers temporarily granted him broader powers to fight the COVID-19 outbreak that has killed 26 people in Georgia.

But the new strategies do not go as far as others would like. Kemp has been under increased pressure to enact a statewide shelter-in-place mandate for non-essential workers as the novel coronavirus quickly spreads in Georgia. As of Monday night, 800 people have tested positive for the virus.

Instead, the governor outlined the “targeted” measures – including an order to close all public schools – the state has already adopted during a public briefing Monday afternoon.

Kemp’s new order narrowly focuses on “individuals with an increased risk of complications,” such as long-term care facility residents, cancer patients, those with chronic lung disease and Georgians who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to someone who has the virus.

And the order empowers the state Department of Public Health to shut down any other business or nonprofit, such as a church, that ignores the social distancing rules when more than 10 people are gathered at a single location.

The order is in effect until noon on Monday, April 6.

“While we have taken strategic, direct action today, I’m calling on my fellow citizens to fight this virus with everything you got,” Kemp said Monday. “We are all part of this solution.

“If your friends, neighbors or local organizations are not complying, call them out or report them to us. If any establishment isn’t following these directives, I would ask you to take your business somewhere else,” he said. “We cannot let this virus defeat us. We are stronger than this crisis.”

There have been increased calls for the governor to use his public health emergency powers to order Georgians statewide to shelter in place, which would reduce out-of-the-home ventures to grocery shopping and other essential needs.

“We need @GovKemp to act now, the point of ‘no return’ for GA is rapidly closing. To prevent a catastrophe in the healthcare system due to #COVID19 we need for him to shut down GA now,” Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert and a professor at Emory University School of Medicine, tweeted over the weekend.

House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, told a north Georgia news outlet earlier in the day Monday that he would support an order that required non-essential workers to stay home for a couple weeks to “see if we can flatten this curve a little bit.”

“You hate to contemplate a shutdown because you know it’s going to cause economic pain, and it’s going to cause economic pain to people that I know, people that I care about,” Ralston told Fetch Your News. “But I would prefer that over hearing of them becoming very ill or dying.”

And House Democrats sent a letter to Kemp urging him to mandate shelter-in-place for the next two weeks, as well as required a two-week self-quarantine for anyone who travels outside the state or country until testing is more widely available.

“It does little to order shelter in place only for the medically fragile,” Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat, said on Twitter Monday. “Many are self-quarantining anyway. The point of a (shelter-in-place) order is to stop transmission by people who are asymptomatic or have mild cases. And you don’t have to be medically fragile to show up in the ICU.”

Kemp has said previously that he has deferred to local officials how far to go with restrictive measures. Several localities have ordered limitations unique to their areas, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms waited until after Kemp’s Monday briefing to issue a stay-at-home order.

“Thank you @BrianKempGA for the updated state guidelines,” Bottoms tweeted. “Based upon our density & specific needs/concerns in Atlanta, I’ve signed a 14 day Stay at Home Order.”

The order does not include essential businesses like grocery stores, parks, restaurants serving takeout and the city’s popular – and crowded – BeltLine.

Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.