April 4, 2021
Robert Luskin and Graham Newsome
Goodman McGuffey LLP
On March 31, 2021, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed three executive orders relating to COVID-19. Executive Order 03.21.21.01 (the “First Order”), extended the Public Health State of Emergency, currently set to expire on April 6, 2021, until April 30, 2021 at 11:59 PM. Executive Order 03.31.21.02 (the “Second Order”) extended Executive Order 03.12.21.01, Empowering a Healthy Georgia, until April 7, 2021. The Second Order also allows state employees to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine without being required to use sick leave or PTO.
Executive Order 03.31.21.03 (the “Third Order”), was the most expansive of the three orders. The Third Order takes effect on April 8, 2021 and will be active through April 30, 2021. The Third Order requires social distancing, and “strongly encourage[s]” face coverings to be worn while outside a home or place of residence, except when eating, drinking, or exercising outdoors. Restaurants and bars are shall implement measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, which may include ensuring their employees wear masks when interacting with patrons, keep seating arrangements forty-two (42) inches apart, and use plastic barriers and posting appropriate signage previously mentioned in executive orders. Measures that “shall” be implemented for business included in the section titled “Industry, Commerce, & Organizations” were similar in nature. The Third Order also suspended any “state, county, or municipal law, order, ordinance, rule, or regulation that requires persons to wear face coverings, masks, [or face shields]” in places of public accommodation or on public property. No organization will be mandated to close for failure to comply with the Third Order, which also eliminates the gatherings ban and shelter in place requirements. Lastly, the Third Order suspends enforcement of any county or municipal ordinance or order that is more or less restrictive than the Third Order.
What is interesting is how the Third Order will interact with orders and ordinances of local governments who may have passed orders that are more restrictive than the Third Order discussed above. Governor Kemp permitted local governments to pass mask requirements, despite earlier executive orders prohibiting orders that were “more or less restrictive” than an order from the Governor. Arguably, there are local orders and ordinances that are more restrictive than the Third Order, despite the removal of the mask requirement and the gatherings ban. For example, Athens-Clarke County has an ordinance in place that requires alcohol licensees to stop serving alcohol at 11:30 PM. Will this restriction remain? Possibly. What remains to be seen is how the Third Order will impact the rules and orders of local governments around the state. We will keep you updated regarding any updates related to COVID-19 and possible impacts on local businesses.