Local reaction to governor’s plan for rolling back COVID-19 restrictions

Coronavirus

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Many remaining COVID-19 restrictions in Georgia will be rolled back next week.

The plan to ease restrictions was announced despite warnings from federal officials of a “fourth surge” of COVID-19 cases should states continue relaxing provisions.

Gov. Brian Kemp on Wednesday signed three executive orders, including one that eliminates a ban on gatherings and shelter-in-place requirements.

It also reduces distance requirements at restaurants, bars, movie theaters and group fitness classes.

Furthermore, law enforcement will no longer be able to close an organization for non-compliance with COVID-19 provisions.

These changes will go into effect on Thursday, April 8.

Andrew Williams manages several Savannah restaurants, including Collins Quarter and Collins Quarter at Forsyth. He says he understands that there has to be a balance between preserving livelihoods and keeping people safe.

Compared to other states, Georgia has remained wide open and he says business is booming.

“Being that Georgia’s open,” said Williams, “everyone’s flocking to Georgia, so we are seeing a great influx in business and we need hands to take care of that.”

The city attorney says legally, this doesn’t affect Savannah’s restrictions. He says as the governor pulls back local governments have more authority to deal with emergency situations.

“We are still going to govern ourselves, as Savannah Mayor Van Johnson says, you know, following the science,” said Williams, “doing what it takes to keep our guests and employees safe.”

A city spokesperson gave WSAV this statement:

The city’s emergency orders remain unchanged, including our mask mandate. We are evaluating the governor’s three new, amended orders and will continue to follow the science.

Nick Zoller, City of Savannah

Johnson says he’ll address any changes to the city’s order on Tuesday.

Some of the country’s top health officials say it’s a mistake to ease restrictions right now and it could lead to another COVID case surge.

“It may be too soon, but I think time will tell for us,” said Dr. Stephen Thacker, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Health.

“We are certainly at a low point from the standpoint of cases in our community,” he added.

Kemp also signed off on an order extending the public health state of emergency in Georgia through April 30.

The third order allows state agency employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine without using sick or annual leave.

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