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Phoebe Sumter Medical Center CEO Brandi Lunneborg, shown receiving her COVID vaccination in February, said the hospital, as of Thursday at noon, had no COVID-19 patients.

ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp is rolling back restrictions on public gatherings and a shelter-in-place order for elderly-care facility residents that have been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Set to take effect on April 8, the rollback marks the broadest lifting of COVID-19 safety measures since the governor ended a statewide shelter-in-place order that was in place for about three weeks last April.

Going forward, restaurants, bars and other popular social spots will no longer face limits on the number of patrons, according to one of several executive orders Kemp signed Wednesday. Capacities in public spaces have been kept at 50 people or fewer for many months.

The amount of space people will have to keep apart can also be reduced from 6 feet to at least 3 feet in movie theaters and 3.5 feet for restaurant and bar seating. Group fitness classes in gyms will have to keep exercisers at least 6 feet apart.

Shelter-in-place orders for residents in Georgia long-term care facilities, which have been in place since mid-March of 2020, will be lifted starting on April 8.

Kemp’s latest order, which also bars local police officers from shutting down businesses that refuse to comply with the new scaled-back distancing and sanitization rules, comes as COVID-19 numbers continue to fall in the state and vaccinations are now available to all citizens ages 16 and over.

Locally, one milestone was reached by Phoebe Putney Health System facilities, even as COVID numbers crept up after falling below 20 earlier this week for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Phoebe officials announced that the number of patients at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital facilities in Albany had crept up to 25, while the number of patients at Phoebe Sumter medical Center in Americus reached 0.

The governor’s order allows state government employees and public school teachers to take up to 8 hours off of work without using vacation or sick time in order to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Georgia’s public health emergency, which allows Kemp to continue issuing executive orders on COVID-19, will be extended through the end of April.

Nearly 3.8 million vaccines have been administered in Georgia as of Wednesday afternoon, roughly 80% of the number of doses shipped by the federal government, according to state Department of Public Health data.

Georgians can pre-register for a vaccine appointment at even if they do not yet qualify under the governor’s eligibility criteria. They will be notified once they qualify and scheduled for an appointment.

State officials have opened nine mass vaccination sites in Atlanta, Macon, Albany, Savannah, Columbus, Waycross and Bartow, Washington and Habersham counties. The site in Albany has since been closed by the state.

More than 852,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Georgia as of Wednesday afternoon, with about 207,000 more reported positive antigen tests indicating likely positive results. The virus has killed 16,607 Georgians.

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Additional information by Carlton Fletcher.

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