SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Local businesses in downtown Savannah are responding after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp again loosened COVID-19 restrictions in the Peach State. Gov. Kemp signed a new executive order on Friday, which went into effect on Saturday, May 1 and will expire on Sunday, May 30. This round of rollbacks reduces or eliminates the requirements for the operation of bars and restaurants, conventions and gyms and fitness centers, among others.
WTOC spoke with Savannah business owners who gave the governor’s actions a mixed review. Some say they weren’t surprised by the move, but Director of the Coastal Health District Dr. Lawton Davis says we will have to take personal responsibility for public health in our communities.
“The onus has been shifted to us and personal responsibility and I hope that people will continue to take it seriously and realize that we still have ongoing community transmission and we still need to be very careful,” he said.
While we are in a plateau phase of COVID-19 cases, Dr. Davis says the coronavirus pandemic has not disappeared. In fact, we still meet the governor’s threshold for a mask mandate with a community transmission rate of 130. While Dr. Davis says time will tell how these changes impact us, his hope is that as variants spread, we continue to take caution.
“I think the practicality of it is that things haven’t changed, my recommendation would be to still socially distance to the greatest extent possible and wear a mask if you can,” he said.
While the governor’s latest action no longer requires workers to wear masks, the owner of Wright Square Cafe says employees will continue to wear masks as vaccinations are ongoing. Right now, 26 percent of Georgia is fully vaccinated.
“I don’t know what the public is and I think until it gets a little bit stronger I think then we may relax it, but right now no. It’s also a safety thing for the public, they want to know that they are being taken care of too,” said Gary Hall, owner of Wright Square Cafe.
Hall says about 90 percent of his customers still wear a mask and avoid sitting near each other. He says the pandemic has been a challenge but it’s gotten better the last two months.
Hall is retiring and sold the Wright Square Cafe. He has one week left at the business, but is grateful knowing it will continue under new owners and to all those who helped him succeed.
“Thank you Savannah, and all of the people that have helped us during the pandemic and that have helped all small businesses,” he said.
WTOC did reach out to the City of Savannah and they said that despite the governor’s orders the mask mandate here is still in effect. They will continue to enforce the mandate and ask for compliance. The city said they are looking at how they should move forward and keep Savannah safe.
Key provisions of the new executive order are as follows:
- Modifies the social distancing and sanitation requirements for residents and visitors to “strongly encouraged.”
- Eliminates the restaurant and bar table distancing requirements and workers mask requirement.
- Eliminates all specific requirements for gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, body art studios, estheticians, hairstylists and massage therapists.
- Reduces requirements for conventions.
- Eliminates the requirement that childcare facilities prohibit all unnecessary visitors.
- Provides that live performance venues, regardless of seating capacity, are only required to follow the guidelines for all organizations, and such venues may implement additional measures in conjunction with the performer or organizer of an event.
- Maintains that professional, collegiate and high school sports organizations and events shall operate pursuant to the rules or guidelines issued by their respective league, conference or association.
- Clarifies that graduation ceremonies are only required to follow the guidelines for all organizations.
Read the full executive order: