Georgia governor Brian Kemp on Thursday signed an executive order essentially giving private businesses, including restaurants and bars, the OK to opt out of mask mandates, capacity restrictions, and vaccine requirements imposed by local governments.
Businesses can still choose to follow local mandates and implement other COVID-19 safety restrictions, but bars cities, counties, and other local municipalities from requiring such measures be enforced at privately owned businesses. The order also does away with fines for businesses found in noncompliance with a local mandate. Local COVID mandates on and inside public and government property are allowed to stand and be enforced.
The governor’s latest order comes after some cities and counties throughout Georgia recently reinstated mask mandates inside public places and private businesses to help mitigate the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant. This includes the cities of Atlanta and Savannah, both considered areas of substantial or high transmission by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as is nearly the entire state of Georgia.
“The executive order I signed today will make sure businesses across our state can’t be punished by local governments for trying to make a living, pay their employees, and save their livelihoods,” the governor tweeted. “Georgia is open for business!”
Kemp continues to ask people to wear masks in public and get vaccinated.
Officials from several metro Atlanta hospitals gathered outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Thursday morning pleading for more Georgians to get vaccinated. Currently, only 40 percent of eligible Georgia residents are fully vaccinated.
The state hit a grim milestone on August 17, surpassing 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 21,300 reported deaths since the pandemic began last March. Over 90 percent of ICU beds are in use at hospitals across Georgia, filled with mostly unvaccinated COVID patients.
After more than a year of political posturing and frequent clashes with the Atlanta mayor, Kemp’s pro-business approach to public health and politicization of the pandemic once again forces these same businesses and restaurants into a lose-lose situation in how to keep customers and staff safe during the pandemic. It also charges employees with policing patrons and their behavior, putting workers at risk for abuse from people unwilling to comply.
Risking further backlash, including from public figures like Georgia congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene, some Atlanta restaurants, entertainment venues, and festivals have imposed additional restrictions on staff and patrons, requiring either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to work or gain entrance.