Gov. Brian Kemp on March 23 issued new emergency orders requiring some people at risk of COVID-19 to stay at home, shuttering bars and nightclubs statewide, and prohibiting some gatherings of 10 or more people. He avoided a statewide stay-at-home order that some legislators have called for, leaving the metro area with a patchwork of other restrictions city-to-city and county-to-county.

Kemp reported in a press conference that Georgia has so far seen 772 reported COVID-19 cases in 67 counties, with 25 dead. His order takes effect at noon, March 24, and continues through April 6.

“While we have taken strategic, direct action today, I am calling on my fellow citizens to fight this virus with everything you’ve got,” he said of his new order. “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 an establishment isn’t following these directives, take your business elsewhere.”

Some local legislators maintain Kemp isn’t doing enough to contain the virus, pointing to stay-at-home orders in places like New York and California.

“This is so incredibly weak,” said state Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta), who represents parts of Buckhead and Sandy Springs, on Twitter about Kemp’s order. “The problem is & has always been that healthier people have refused to stay home & follow restrictions. Very disappointed & worried.”

State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), who represents part of Brookhaven, responded on Twitter to a medical doctor who said there needs to be a complete shelter-in-place order. “You and many other doctors are telling me the same thing,” Holcomb said.”I haven’t received any communications from medical professionals who watched the speech stat[ing] that these policies are sufficient. It’s up to each locality to act.”

Under Kemp’s order, people will be variously required to isolate, quarantine or shelter in place if they:

  • test positive for COVID-19
  • are suspected to have COVID-19 due to symptoms
  • have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • live in a long-term care facility
  • have chronic lung disease
  • are undergoing cancer treatment

The Georgia Department of Public Health is working on rules and regulations to implement those orders.
The ban on gatherings of 10 or more people does not apply if the groups can maintain at least 6 feet of distance between attendees.

The order also will extend the state tax filing deadline to July 15, matching a federal extension.

To bolster medical response, Kemp said doctors with lapsed or inactive licenses can practice, and nursing students can apply for temporary licenses. He also said the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will seek extra hospital space in “arenas and large buildings” as well as in “vacant and underutilized properties of all types.” Kemp is authorized under emergency powers to seize private property if necessary.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.