Bars, nightclubs allowed to reopen – with limited crowds

Gov. Brian Kemp continued to ease coronavirus restrictions, allowing bars and nightclubs to open as soon as June 1 with limited capacity and only if they follow a list of 39 mandatory guidelines. 

On Thursday, Kemp (photo) extended the state’s public health emergency a third time to July 12. But he announced that he would let his order closing bars and nightclub to expire on May 31. Live performance venues will remain closed.

Kemp also eased restrictions on public gatherings and said groups of as many as 25 people can gather – up from 10 – only if physical distancing is followed.

“Bars and nightclubs can decide to reopen if they comply with strict sanitation and social distancing rules, all crafted to reflect industry practices and mitigate health risk,” Kemp said. 

If they choose to open, nightlife venues will face reduced capacity – 25 people or 35 percent of capacity, whichever is larger – and a list of 39 mandatory measures. The businesses will also be required to only serve drinks to seated patrons or those in designated areas, limit groups to six people and prevent customers from congregating.

Bars and nightclubs will also be required to screen employees for COVID-19, require workers to wear face coverings at all times, place work stations six feet apart when possible, ban handshakes and person-to-person contact, enforce social distancing, limit contact between employees and patrons, clean and sanitize tables between patrons, clean and sanitize restrooms regularly, install physical barriers at cash registers where possible, provide hand sanitizer for patrons and at every entrance, create separate entrances and exits where possible and sanitize the bar at least twice a day.

The mandatory health measures will remain in place until at least June 15.

Kemp called the easing of restrictions part of “measured steps forward in our reopening process.”

“Our numbers continue to look good. They looked even better today. Our hospital bed capacity continues to look good,” Kemp said. “Nothing in the data that we’re seeing right now alarms us.”

But Kemp warned that if large crowds gather in public or businesses don’t follow the guidelines for reopening, state law enforcement agencies stand ready to urge compliance. 

“We’ve got some pretty strict guidelines in here, and we’ll enforce them as we’ve been doing,” Kemp said. 

“We want people to comply. We want to be a government that helps people comply. We realize a lot of these things are not easy. Sometimes people may not understand them. For the most part, in the high 90 percent of people, they have been trying to comply with the guidelines,” the governor added.

Bars and nightclubs have been closed since mid-March under city, then state orders. Kemp kept them shuttered for three additional weeks on May 12. He allowed restaurants, gyms and hair salons to reopen on April 20.

Also Thursday, Kemp extended a shelter-in-place order for people ages 65 and over, nursing home residents, and those with underlying health conditions, including “poorly controlled HIV and AIDS,” until June 12. 

Read more coverage of how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting LGBTQ Atlanta.