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Governor Eases Restrictions for Bars as Vaccine Eligibility Opens to More Georgians

As of March 16, bars in Georgia no longer include capacity limits and must adhere to the same COVID-19 standards as restaurants

A bright yellow metal container houses Victory Sandwich Bar’s outdoor tiki bar to-go window. A masked staff member stands inside the window assisting a patron in black pants, green and black hoodie, and mask
Victory Sandwich Bar’s parking lot tiki bar last summer in Inman Park
Ryan Fleisher
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for 12 years.

As of Tuesday, March 16, bars in Georgia no longer need to adhere to capacity limits under new guidance stated in the latest COVID-19 executive order. The order, issued by Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday, March 12, runs through Wednesday, March 31.

Since being allowed to reopen last June, Georgia bars and nightclubs were limited to 35 percent capacity, or no more than 50 people inside. Few bars were following the capacity rule. By order of the governor, restaurants were allowed to return to full capacity with social distancing restrictions in place on June 16, 2020.

According to the new state guidelines, bars and restaurants now follow the same set of COVID-19 requirements, which eliminates duplicate measures and combines the separate standards for restaurants and bars found in previous orders into one broad category. This includes arranging seating to allow for at least six feet between tables and other diners, installing physical barriers between seating arrangements, and not allowing patrons to gather when not being served. Kemp added new guidance permitting restaurants and bars to offer service at standing tables and counters and requires these businesses to establish clear and unobstructed pathways for entering and exiting.

All customer-facing employees in Georgia must wear masks, including hosts, servers, bartenders, food runners, and bussers. Many restaurants and bars continue to follow city or county mask mandates, requiring patrons to wear face coverings when not eating or drinking.

Easing COVID-19 restrictions on bars comes as more Georgians become eligible for the vaccine this week. As of March 15, vaccine eligibility expands to all people 55 years and older and people 16 years and older with a number of high risk medical conditions, like hypertension, asthma, and cancer, or individuals who are considered overweight (BMI 25 to 29.9) or obese (BMI 30 and over).

In late February, Kemp announced the expansion of Georgia’s vaccine criteria to teachers and K-12 school staff, including people working for private schools, preschools, and daycares, adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their caregivers, and parents of children with complex medical conditions. These groups became eligible for the vaccine on March 8.

The CDC vaccine distribution guidance classifies teachers, food, grocery, and agricultural workers, manufacturing workers, and people working for the U.S. Postal Service as essential frontline workers and should be prioritized for the vaccine. Restaurant and grocery store workers are not currently eligible as essential frontline workers to receive the vaccine in Georgia, unless individuals meet one or more of the eligibility criteria.

Georgia currently ranks last among states in overall vaccination rates. The state health department features a website breaking down vaccine totals by state, county, race, and ethnicity. According to the March 14 update, Georgia has administered 2,720,976 vaccines or 81 percent of the 3,336,655 vaccines shipped to the state. Data is updated daily at 3 p.m.

Georgia residents can preregister for the vaccine here.