Governor Brian Kemp gave a press briefing in the Georgia State Capitol on Tuesday, May 12 concerning progress through reopening Georgia. The safety requirements for businesses are scheduled to expire today. It was expected that the governor would give further guidance regarding the status of the state health emergency order. See video of the briefing here.
Kemp opened up his comments concerning the virus by saying, “I am proud of these hardworking Georgians for following the guidance, keeping both their employees and customers safe. I also stand with the small business owners who decided not to reopen their doors. These men and women have a choice and I appreciate the incredible challenges each of them faces every single day.”
He also mentioned that his new order was based upon the fact that “COVID-19 positive hospitalizations, ventilator use, and the percentage of positive cases continue to drop. It is based on data, science, and the advice of our public health officials.”
The governor did extend and revise his current business safety requirements until May 31. He said, “Mandatory restrictions for sanitation and social distancing will remain in place for all non-critical infrastructure businesses, and for recently reopened businesses, we are extending industry-specific restrictions. Those will remain in place through the end of the month. As businesses slowly reopen and some enhance capacity, we know that many are safely returning to their place of employment.”
The governor did not open any other businesses and is requiring that bars, nightclubs, and performance venues remain closed through the end of the month. He did not give any further advisement regarding church services. His guidelines regarding social distancing are still the requirement for meeting. When it comes to being out in public, the governor reminded everyone by saying that, “We continue to strongly encourage people to wear face coverings when out in public, and we thank everyone for their willingness to do the right thing.” See The Christian Index article for church guidance.
He also affirmed that the current shelter-in-place order for those 65 and older and those medically fragile will continue until at least June 12. “Right now, nursing home, assisted living, and personal care home residents and staff make up 18.5 percent of our total positive cases, and 49 percent of total deaths involve nursing home, assisted living, and personal care home residents. We ask everyone to continue to protect the elderly and medically fragile, and we will continue to work around the clock to ensure quick, convenient testing is available for all Georgians,” he said.
Regarding childcare facilities, he added that the new executive order “will increase the number of people allowed in a single classroom of a childcare facility from ten to 20 people so long as staff-to-children ratios set by the Department of Early Care and Learning are also maintained.” He also reminded us that “childcare facilities must continue to adhere to 13 minimum, mandatory criteria to be able to operate, including strict screening procedures and sanitation mandates for frequently touched items and surfaces.”
By way of application to churches, this would mean that children’s Sunday school classes, daycare ministries, and other children’s class meetings would need to adhere to best practices given in the governor’s order. See the operating requirements beginning on page 21.
The governor also covered the regulations regarding summer camps and stated, “We have defined ‘summer camp’ as any entity offering organized sessions of supervised recreational, athletic, or instructional activities held between typical school terms, including entities commonly referred to as ‘day camps.’ Starting May 14, 2020, summer day camps are allowed to operate if they can meet 32 minimum, mandatory criteria. These requirements are extensive and cover a wide range of operations to ensure the safety of camp workers and participants of all ages. Even though we have these measures in place to allow for summer camps, we are not allowing overnight summer camps in Georgia at this time.”
Again, by way of application to churches, this would include Vacation Bible School and other “day camp/recreational” activities. These would be subject to the restrictions for summer camps in the governor’s order. See the operating requirements beginning on page 23.
Finally, I want to mention the fact that the governor wanted all Georgians to know that they may get tested “regardless of whether you have coronavirus symptoms. Anyone can call their local health department to get scheduled for testing. They can also download the Augusta University ExpressCare app, visit augustahealth.org, or call (706) 721-1852.”
I know these are difficult days, but Lord willing we are going to get through this. Until then, please continue to pray and be vigilant about the public health and safety concerns. Also, continue to check our website for updates on what is happening and how to safely reopen your church.
As our governor said, “Your cooperation is making a difference and saving lives.”
Mike Griffin serves as Public Affairs representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.