ATLANTA — Beginning today, Georgia restaurant tables can be a little closer, more people can get together and vulnerable residents are no longer supposed to stay home as Gov. Brian Kemp loosens COVID-19 restrictions.
Kemp said that it’s part of an effort to show that “Georgia is open for business.” He made the announcement last week rolling back most of the restrictions put in place a year ago.
[SPECIAL SECTION: COVID-19 Vaccine in Georgia]
Luke Braden was preparing to open McCray’s Tavern’s East Cobb location just as the lockdowns started last year.
Soon the restaurant was in takeout mode, limiting menus because of supply chain delays and by summer-limited seating was in play.
Now he’s prepping for full capacity, as state COVID restrictions end in Georgia.
“It just opens everything up for us,” said Braden, the restaurant’s general manager. “Get us back in the community. Get everybody back hopefully.”
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The capacity guidelines that once limited seating indoor seating are no longer in effect, giving Georgia restaurants and other businesses the ability to host larger parties. The rollback allows for tables to be as close as 42 inches apart, versus the previous six foot barrier.
Shelter-in-place orders that were still limiting senior care facility visitations have also rolled back.
The ban of gatherings of 50 people or more are also over, as Kemp said the relaxed steps are key to getting back to “normal life.”
The rollbacks come with mixed reactions from different businesses and consumers who indicate they’ll move forward at varying paces, as experts continue to monitor Georgia’s vaccination rate and the evidence of variant cases. At this point, nearly three million Georgians have had at least one vaccine dose.
“We aren’t in a position to declare victory yet,” said data analyst, Dr. Amber Schmidtke. “We have only got a small fraction of the Georgia population fully vaccinated.”
“We can’t afford to let go of masks and social distancing until we get to that herd immunity threshold,” she added.
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About a mile from McCray’s Tavern is the East Cobb location of Sterling Estates, a 400-resident senior care facility.
“This is a turning of the page to a new and more vibrant time for our residents, staff and their loved ones, said Nathan Madigan, Vice President of Operations for Sterling Estates.
The facility is in a unique position given it’s the only facility of its type in the state that also serves as a direct vaccine supplier, said Madigan. Madigan says many of the residents began to see the light at the end of the tunnel before the new year, as a result, and to-date more than half of the staff members and 96% of residents had been inoculated through the program.
“We really do feel like we’re in a safer spot,” said Madigan, who added the facility had successfully phased into indoor and outdoor visitation.
Braden, surrounded by masked servers and socially-distanced indoor lunch patrons, says he still wants customers to know they’re concerned with safety.
“We’re still at the forefront trying to stay as sanitary as possible,” he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Becky Kellogg was happy to enter the restaurant with her mask to pick up takeout. She said that’s how she’ll continue to support the business, as she’s still not comfortable with the idea of increased capacity inside.
“It seems a bit early since the cases are still surging a little and not everyone has had even a first shot,” said Kellogg.
In the same parking lot, a Fulton County woman wrapped her shopping.
“I’ve had my vaccination-first and second-but I still think we may be jumping the gun a little bit,” said Jacquelyn Mann.
Mann noted her concern with variants in the state, and learning more about how effective her vaccinations will be against those.
Her motto at this point is simple.
“Be positive, but still take precautions.”