ATLANTA - Gov. Brian Kemp allowed the statewide shelter in place order to expire as planned but announced that he is extending Georgia's public health state of emergency through June 12, 2020.
Georgia's shelter in place order expired at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.
"I am urging Georgians to continue to stay home whenever possible. I want to thank the people of our great state who heeded public health advice, afforded us time to bolster our healthcare infrastructure, and flattened the curve. We were successful in these efforts, but the fight is far from over," the governor said in a statement released to FOX 5.
Though the shelter in place order has expired, businesses across the Peach State have been instructed to continue to operate with strict social distancing and sanitation rules to keep customers and employees safe through May 13.
Business establishments, corporations, organizations, and local governments cannot allow more than 10 people to gather in a single location unless there is at least 6-feet between each person. Sing location means a space where all persons gathered cannot maintain at least 6-feet between themselves and any other person.
Exceptions to the ban include cohabiting persons, family units or roommates, critical infrastructure, transitory or incidental grouping.
Dining rooms and restaurants are not allowed to have more than 10 patrons per square 500 feet, excluding hallways, bathrooms, and spaces closed to patrons.
"The health and well-being of Georgians are my top priorities, and my decisions are based on data and advice from health officials. I will do what is necessary to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of our people," Kemp said.
The governor said he would sign an order Thursday requiring medically fragile and elderly Georgians to continue to shelter in place through June 12, 2020. In addition, long-term care facilities – including nursing homes, personal care homes, assisted living facilities, and similar community living homes – have been ordered to utilize enhanced infection control protocols, ensure safer living conditions, and protect residents and staff from coronavirus exposure.
Kemp previously allowed restaurants to resume limited dine-in service and permitted hair salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, bowling alleys, gyms, and fitness centers to reopen with restrictions. He also lifted a temporary ban on short-term vacation rentals Friday.
Further guidelines for those establishments were released Thursday. For the extended guidelines dining rooms and restaurants must follow until 11:59 p.m. May 13, click here. For gyms and fitness centers, click here.
For the extended guidelines indoor movie theaters and cinemas must follow until 11:59 p.m. on May 13, 2020, click here.
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In hard-hit Dougherty County, which leads Georgia with deaths, many restaurants have heeded local officials’ request to keep their dining rooms closed because “it just doesn’t feel right now,” said Chris Cohilas, the county’s elected chairman.
Cohilas noted one significant sign of improvement. He said Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital had just 80 coronavirus patients Tuesday, down from 127 two weeks earlier.
Kemp has said it’s imperative during the health crisis response to also mitigate deep economic suffering across Georgia.
Still, Kemp took fierce criticism when many questioned whether Georgia’s data met reopening guidelines by President Donald Trump’s administration, which called for a two-week trend of declining new cases, widespread public testing, and the ability to trace the contacts of infected people to break the chain of infection.
Officials have argued that Georgia’s outbreak peaked in mid-April, but that’s not yet clear from the data. The state has in recent days improved testing capacity. Kemp’s office said the state reported nearly 13,000 new tests Tuesday — the largest daily number since testing began.
Meanwhile, the state is still scrambling to build a projected 1,000-worker contact tracing effort.
Trump himself criticized Kemp last week, saying: “I wasn’t happy with Brian Kemp, I wasn’t at all happy.”
RELATED: CoronavirusNOW.com, FOX launches national hub for COVID-19 news and updates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.