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Q & A on Gov. Kemp's orders, other COVID-19 matters

Gov. Brian Kemp has issued numerous Executive Orders in recent weeks related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since these are State Orders, State authorities enforce them and define their parameters. That said, as a service to our residents, the City of Milton is providing -- to the best of our ability, understanding our limitations as a municipal government -- answers to understandable questions in connection with the State order.  Click on the following to read specific Orders from the Governor's office:

April 3 -- "Shelter in Place" through April 30

April 20 -- Lifting certain business restrictions 

April 23 -- "Social distance" order through May 13, plus business matters

April 30 -- Extending "Public Health State of Emergency" through June 12

May 12 -- Continuing "Social distancing," ban on "Gatherings" through May 31

 

Have we been ordered to “shelter in place”?

Not anymore, for most people. the Governor's "shelter in place" Order ended on midnight on April 30 except for the "medically fragile" and elderly. Members of those groups are ordered to shelter in place through (at least) the end of the "Public Health State of Emergency" on June 12.

Originally, Gov. Kemp’s Executive Order to shelter in place expired on April 13. He announced that it will extend through April 30.

The Governor's April 23 Order did mandate that all Georgians practice socially distancing. In an April 30 press release, Governor Kemp additionally urged "all Georgians to stay home whenever possible." That is a strong recommendation but not a legal mandate.

 

So who must still "shelter in place" through June 12?

People who meet the following criteria, according to the Governor:

The Governor's May 12 Order notes people in these groups can leave their homes for "necessary travel," pursue "gainful employment" and perform "essential services" like buying food or getting medical care.

 

Is it prohibited to gather in groups of more than 10 people or stand/be seated within 6 feet of someone?

Generally, yes -- since this is how "social distancing" is commonly defined. And in his May 12 Order, Gov. Kemp did explicitly prohibit "Gatherings" defined as "more than 10 persons physically present at a Single Location if, to be present, persons are required to required to stand or be seated within 6 feet of another person." (This extends through at least May 31.)

The exceptions are when those people are members of your household or residence, you are a “Critical Infrastructure” provider, or close contact has otherwise been allowed by the State (to do business, for example). Law enforcement will warn people in large, clustered groups to disband. Those who do not comply may face criminal charges.

Gov. Kemp has announced the relaxation of some restrictions for non-critical providers to be within close proximity to people from outside their household. (Examples include a barber or massage therapist.) He's also detailed additional guidelines related to religious services.

 

Should I wear a mask while going out?

Generally, you should -- especially if you're going somewhere like a store where you'll interact with strangers -- with exceptions.

There is no explicit legal requirement (on the local, state, or federal level) to wear masks. So you will not face charges if you do not have a mask. However, the May 12 Governor's Order does state that "all residents and visitors ... are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings as practicable while outside their homes or places as residence, except when eating, drinking or exercising outdoors." So if you're eating or out for a walk or a run, you don't need a mask; otherwise, you should.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends "wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

On May 1, Gov. Kemp and the State's Department of Public Health publicly urged people to wear face coverings when appropriate. A State news release stated, "A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting where social distancing may be difficult such as in the grocery store or picking up food at a restaurant or riding public transportation."

 

How can I keep spaces coronavirus-free? 

The CDC has released extensive recommendations on how clean and disinfect "public spaces, workplaces, businesses, schools and homes." The agency recommends to start by developing a plan -- as in, figuring out what needs to be cleaned, with what substance, who will clean it, and when.

For certain areas, a routine cleaning will suffice. But "frequently touched surfaces and objects" will require regular disinfection. They include:

The federal EPA has compiled a list -- found HERE -- of approved disinfectants that are effective in killing COVID-19 germs. People should use gloves when using disinfectants, which should be kept away from children. (For similar reasons, disinfectants generally shouldn't be used on items used by children.) Note that soft and porous areas (like rugs and many couches) are harder to disinfect. 

  

What businesses are and are not allowed to remain open to the public?

Initially, the Governor's Order ordered several types of businesses to stay closed. On April 20, he announced that some of them could reopen if certain COVID-19 mediation practices were met.

On Friday, April 24, these businesses -- previously ordered to stay closed -- were allowed to reopen "to the public on a limited basis, subject to restrictions," according to the Governor's office. (The Governor has since provided more detailed guidelines):

 

On Monday, April 27, according to the State, these could reopen if they meet certain guidelines:

 

The following will remain closed through at least May 31. (The date was extended in the Governor's May 12 Order.):

 

What must businesses not deemed "critical" do to operate?

The Governor outlines several steps all such businesses must take in order to operate. They are neatly outlined, specific to industry, on this Georgia Department of Economic Development webpage: https://www.georgia.org/covid19bizguide#guidelines. The May 12 Order gives yet more details and recommendations (including steps like installing plexiglass when possible).

Highlights of the precautions that businesses are being asked to take include:

 

Can there be summer camps?

Yes -- with significant qualifications (and at the discretion of the camp provider). The May 12 Order lists 32 specific requirements touching on sanitation, masks, and far more. Additional requirements apply to overnight camps. 

 

Can teenagers get driver's licenses without taking a road test?

Once upon a time, but not anymore. There were a few weeks this spring when this was allowed to happen -- a 16-year-old could get a driver's license without a road test. But in a May 12 Order, the Governor ended this policy. Moreover, he required teenagers who got a license under this policy to take an official road test before September 30.

 

Can I go to the grocery store, a pharmacy, or a restaurant to get food to-go?

Yes. Even before "shelter in place" expired, the Governor’s Order considered “obtaining food and supplies” – like toilet paper, paper towels or a tool to fix a leak in your house – to be“essential.” 

 

What about to see a doctor? Or have an elective surgery? Or see a dentist?

Yes. “Activities essential for the health and safety of family or household members” – like going to a doctor – are allowed. In fact, in his April 20 Order, Gov. Kemp explicitly outlined that medical, dental, and orthodontic practices, as well as other medical facilities, "should begin treating patients as soon as practicable" in according with health guidelines. This means that things such as elective surgeries and dental cleanings are allowed.

In the April 23 update, the Governor's Office explained that elective surgeries -- which many healthcare facilities had halted "to reduce equipment and personnel shortages" -- could resume "given recent changes in modeling related to surge capacity and national supply." In other words, the thought was that Georgia medical facilities now had the people, space, and equipment for non-emergency operations.

The Governor's May 12 Order also touches on going to the dentist. Their offices can open so long as practitioners comply with American Dental Association guidelines. Similarly, optometrists can see patients if they meet American Optometric Association guidelines. 

 

Can I walk or run outside?

Yes. The Governor has consistently allowed "outdoor exercise so long as a minimum distance of six feet is maintained … between all persons who are not occupants of the same household or residence.” In other words, you can walk your dog or jog along a sidewalk, as long as you maintain proper buffers. The City of Milton’s trails remain open, as do “active” parts of our parks (like fields, playgrounds, and tennis courts). Organized sports activities have yet to resume, and the City pool remains closed.

 

Can I go to state parks or play sports outside like golf?

Yes. You can still visit state parks or play sports as long as – again -- the “social distancing” guidelines are followed. Those not following these may be warned by law enforcement; if they still don’t comply, they may face criminal charges.

 

Can my business stay open?

It depends though, most likely, yes. There are a few types of businesses, or aspects thereof, that the State order explicitly says cannot remain open. Others are officially deemed “critical” and, as such, may remain open as long as certain health-related mitigation measures are met. For others, deemed non-critical, the State allows for these business to still undertake the “minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of a business, establishment, corporation, non-profit … organization.” In other words, they do not necessarily have to close as long as certain social distancing guidelines are met and health-related mitigation measures are taken.

 

Am I allowed to do work outside?

Yes. Even if your business is not deemed “critical,” you can work outdoors if you do not have regular contact with other persons while doing your job. This applies if you are a contractor, landscape business, or farmer (agricultural industry), or if you deliver goods.

 

Is my job considered ‘Critical’?

The State of Georgia defines “Critical Infrastructure” using guidelines from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There are 16 sectors; you can learn more about them here: https://www.cisa.gov/critical-infrastructure-sectors.

If you're unsure if a certain business type or sector is “critical,” you can contact the Georgia Department of Economic Development by email at covidcomments@georgia.org or visit its website at Georgia.org.  You may also complete and tender the following form to the Georgia Department of Economic Development and request they advise you as to whether you are a critical business: https://www.cognitoforms.com/GDECD1/COVID19BusinessGuidanceRequestForm. That state agency's decision is final.

 

Do I need a letter to prove that I can keep working?

No. You do not need to carry a letter from your employer or the government to prove you are a "Critical Infrastructure" provider.

 

 

Can the State shut down a business under these Orders?

Yes. State agencies “are, after providing reasonable notice, authorized to mandate the closure of any business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization not in compliance with this Order.”  Moreover, the Governor has deputized all County Sheriffs to enforce the provisions of his Order.

 

What happens if I violate a Governor’s Executive Order?

If you violate the order, you’re committing a misdemeanor – thus committing a crime in the state of Georgia. You’d first get a warning from law enforcement and risk facing criminal charges if you don’t comply.

 

What about church or funeral services? Are they allowed?

In-personal religious services were never explicitly banned in Georgia. Yet the State did order than no single location – including places of worship – could have more than 10 people gathering in one place unless everyone is at least six feet apart.

An April 23 release noted that Gov. Kemp "wants to provide places of worship the flexibility to return to in-person services." That document then spells out how this may work, including a requirement for everyone (except those not in a single household) to always be at least six feet apart. People are also urged to "wear a face mask or cloth covering."

Even then, the release states that "online, call-in, or drive-in services remain the best options to mitigate potential exposure to coronavirus."

 

What can I do if I suspect someone is violating this Order?

If someone calls Milton police about an alleged violation of this Order, the City's officers will respond and advise people (if and when appropriate) to abide by it. If those responsible do not comply, City police will work with our State partners at the Georgia Department of Public Safety -- specifically, the Georgia State Patrol -- to enforce the Order. 

Only state authorities and County sheriffs have enforcement authority, according to the Governor; state authorities are being advised to issue warnings first and, if there is not compliance, to press charges. It is possible – especially given the Governor's directive to call the State Patrol (including these numbers 404-624-6077 or 770-535-6922) -- that some may contact the State Patrol directly, and that troopers may enforce within Milton without our officers’ involvement.

Some complaints, including for alleged business violations, are best directed to the State of Georgia’s Constituent Services office. Contact info and a fillable form can be found here -- https://gov.georgia.gov/contact-us/constituent-services -- or using the barcode image shown below:

Please do not call 911 unless it’s an emergency.

 

Is it legal to drive?

Yes. You can drive to-and-from places while the “shelter in place” order is in effect. An earlier Order did urge only "necessary travel," but that has since expired. The Order aims to mitigate COVID-19’s spread between people who aren’t members of your household/residence, so it’s not a problem if you are driving with members of your household/residence or alone.

 

Who oversees testing?

The State Department of Public Health. According to the Governor's April 20 Order, the Georgia Department of Public Health "is authorized to 'employ whatever means may be at its disposal" including, if necessary, "overriding the orders of county boards of health, health districts, and their ... employees." The Order adds that "the State Health Officer shall have the authority to enforce uniform testing requirements ... and failure to comply with orders by the State Health Officer shall be a misdemeanor."

 

Can I go take care of my horses/animals (if they don’t live near me)?

Yes. The order allows for “outdoor exercise activities” as long as there is at least 6 feet between all people who don’t belong to the same household or residence. Walking to a horse or horseback riding constitutes exercise. Moreover, even if the human exercise is minimal, tending to animals is permitted if the social distancing guidelines are followed.

 

Can I drive to a park or trailhead to walk/hike?

Yes. Getting “outdoor exercise” is allowed in the order; so is driving to a place where you can do that (in accordance with social distancing protocols).

   

Can childcare facilities remain open?

There is no official prohibition on licensed childcare facilities remaining open. However, all establishments -- including daycare facilities -- are expected to abide by social distancing requirements and take mitigation measures.

 

Can I go to the beach or a lake?

Gov. Kemp's Order supersedes all those by local and city authorities, including some that closed down Georgia beaches. The state Order allows for beaches and lakes to remain open providing all gatherings are limited in size and to members of your household, with 6-foot buffers between anyone who is not.

 

If I share child custody with my ex-spouse, can my child travel?

Yes. While the state Order does not mention child custody specifically, child custody agreements can still be kept -- including travel to-and-from residences.