Gov. Brian Kemp

Gov. Brian Kemp lifts COVID-19 during a press conference on June 1. 

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp continued easing COVID-19 restrictions Thursday as he announced bars and nightclubs may reopen June 1.

The announcement is coupled with an extension of the public health emergency through mid-July and business sanitation requirements to continue through June 12.

The public health emergency extension gives Kemp continued powers to allocate state agencies in response to the pandemic.

Bars and nightclubs will be required to nearly 40 mandatory social distancing and sanitation measures including screening workers and limiting occupancy. Patrons in bars and nightclubs are limited to 25 people or 35% of business capacity.

Amusement parks can open their gates June 12; however, live performance venues will remain closed.

The limit on large gatherings will be relaxed starting next month. Groups of 25 people or more will be required to comply with six-foot social distancing requirements.

The shelter-in-place order for Georgians 65 and older and the "medically fragile" will continue through June 12.

Kemp still “strongly encourages” Georgians to wear masks in public, but said he will not mandate it.

“Wearing a mask helps prevent you or me from spreading the virus if we happen to have it,” he said. “ ... If you’re wearing a mask, you’re protecting other people. Not everybody’s doing that and we’re asking them to."

The announcement comes as cases in Georgia have spiked in recent weeks, which the governor and state health officials attribute to a large number of test results from a lab.

The governor cited a decrease in hospitalizations and increased testing capacity as signs to start transitioning the state "to the new normal."

“Nothing in the data we are seeing now alarms us,” he said.

Starting next week, the Department of Public Health COVID-19 Daily Update will move to 3 p.m. which will give the department more time to coordinate with reporting facilities and verify numbers before publication, Kemp said.

The state’s hospitality industry has taken a particularly hard hit from the freeze on sporting and large events. Starting June 1, professional sports teams and organizations can return to practice.

Starting May 31, overnight summer camps will be allowed, also with lengthy infection prevention requirements. Starting in June, schools and districts will be allowed to start holding summer school.

“We know firsthand how important it is for some students to still return to campus for in-person instruction,” he said. “These measures will accomplish that goal, without compromising safety.”

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