Gov. Brian Kemp is facing a Wednesday deadline to decide whether to extend social-distancing restrictions for businesses and other requirements put in place in Georgia amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governor could extend all of the current business and gathering restrictions currently in effect or continue a trend in recent months of gradually relaxing them. He has executive authority to issue emergency orders through at least Aug. 11.
Kemp’s office said he plans to update the COVID-19 restrictions sometime Wednesday before they are due to expire at 11:59 p.m.
While a host of Georgia businesses have been allowed to reopen since May, they are still required by the governor’s orders to abide by several measures to keep people separated from each other, maintain clean surfaces and send workers home if they show symptoms of coronavirus.
A shelter-in-place order has been under effect since late March for Georgians in long-term care facilities and those with chronic medical conditions including lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, severe heart disease, compromised immune systems, severe obesity and diabetes.
In particular, large gatherings in Georgia have been limited to no more than 50 people if they cannot keep at least six feet apart. That applies to restaurants, bars and other popular gathering spots.
Conventions, sports stadiums and performance venues were allowed to reopen July 1 under distancing, sanitizing and signage rules. But Kemp has suggested he could pull the plug on fall sports like football if people disregard wearing masks.
Mask-wearing in Georgia has been a testy subject in recent weeks. Kemp remains under pressure to impose mandatory masking requirements as positive COVID-19 cases continue rising in the state, and several cities have ordered residents to wear facial coverings in public.
The governor’s statewide rules so far have “strongly encouraged” voluntary mask-wearing even as many health experts and local elected officials have urged Kemp to take a mandatory approach or at least let counties and cities set their own masking rules.
To date, Kemp’s orders on COVID-19 have required city and county governments to adopt the state’s rules rather than impose their own. That scenario has caused tension in cities like Atlanta and Savannah, where local officials recently required residents to wear masks.
Last week, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a citywide masking requirement that argued the governor’s statewide orders do not explicitly address mask mandates, posing a legal loophole for local governments to adopt their own measures.
Kemp’s office has dismissed the Atlanta mask mandate as unenforceable.
There have been 123,963 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Georgia, according to the state Department of Public Health as of Tuesday afternoon. There have been 13,685 hospitalizations in the state and 3,054 Georgians have died.
In Bartow County, there have been 1,013 cases, 165 hospitalizations and 44 deaths.
COVID-19 vaccine trials show promising results at Emory
A potential vaccine for COVID-19 being tested at Emory University in Atlanta has shown promising early results after months of clinical trials, researchers announced late Tuesday.
The candidate vaccine appears to be producing high levels of virus-blocking antibodies and interacting well with immune systems in 45 adult test subjects who volunteered for the project, said Dr. Nadine Rouphael, an associate professor of medicine at Emory’s School of Medicine and interim director of the Hope Clinic at Emory’s Vaccine Center, who is helping lead the vaccine study.
In a news conference Tuesday, Rouphael said she feels optimistic about the early trial results but that “time will tell” whether the vaccine may be deemed effective and safe enough for mass production.
“Having a vaccine candidate that works and is safe is really the most important part,” Rouphael said.
No serious negative reactions have been seen so far, though more than half of the test subjects reported experiencing fatigue, headaches, chills and pain at the injection point, Rouphael said.
Test subjects ages 18 to 55 were given two doses of the candidate vaccine. Minor adverse reactions were seen most often in the second dose and at higher dosage amounts.
Results of the trial’s first phase were published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Emory is one of two sites in the U.S. where the candidate vaccine has undergone trial runs since March.
Rouphael and a team of researchers led by the Seattle-based Kaiser Permanent Washington Health Research Institute now plan to conduct trials on hundreds more volunteers in Atlanta and across the country.
She urged people interested in volunteering for the trial’s next testing phase to sign up at https://www.coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org/.
Rouphael also emphasized researchers need volunteers from populations hit hardest by the coronavirus including Black and Latino communities and elderly persons.
“It’s really important to make sure that all of us in the community sign up,” she said.
Unlike traditional vaccines that introduce disease-causing organisms, the vaccine being tested at Emory involves using genetic sequencing to create proteins that mimic the novel strain of coronavirus and trigger a response from the patient’s immune system to erect safeguards.
These so-called mRNA vaccines can be cheaper and faster to produce but are less tried-and-true than traditional vaccines, according to the nonprofit PHG Foundation at the University of Cambridge.
The potential coronavirus vaccine, called mRNA-1273, was developed in roughly two months by the Massachusetts-based company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which kicked off clinical trials in Seattle in March.