What Does the Georgia Government and CDC Recommend?
As the number of positive COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rise in Georgia, many of us are reaching for our face masks as we enter the workplace, run our errands, and enjoy our favorite activities. While many Georgians are willing to wear their face masks to protect themselves and others from the spread of infection, some residents choose not to. This has left many Georgians wondering what the laws and recommendations are for wearing face masks.
Local and State Enforcement
Recently, several cities and counties in Georgia created their own face mask mandates. For example, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an executive order on July 8th requiring residents and travelers passing through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and within Atlanta’s city limits to wear face masks inside commercial buildings and when social distancing is impossible. Exceptions to the order include children under 10, people with medical conditions, and when people are in their own vehicles. Residents and visitors in violation of the order can receive a citation or even be arrested. If arrested and convicted, the offender may have to serve 6 months in jail or pay a fine of $1,000.00.
Other cities and counties around Georgia that passed their own face mask mandates include Athens Clark County, Avondale Estates, Brookhaven, College Park, Decatur, Dekalb County, Doraville, Dunwoody, East Point, Fairburn, Savannah, South Fulton, and Union City.
The individual city and county mask mandates came to a grinding halt on July 15th when Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed an executive order blocking local governments from issuing face mask mandates that are more restrictive than his executive order. Governor Kemp is encouraging the wearing of face masks outside the home but not requiring them, which is in direct conflict with many local mandates. His executive order makes the local mandates unenforceable, but some cities remain defiant. The governor is currently suing Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms for continuing to impose the city’s more restrictive face mask mandate.
Currently, the CDC is recommending that anyone over the age of 2 wear a cloth face covering when out in public, when around others who do not reside in the same household, and when a social distance of 6 feet cannot be maintained. The CDC specifically mentions “cloth” face coverings in an effort to reserve surgical masks and N95 masks for first responders.
Unless seeking medical treatment, those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are suspected to have the virus should remain at home. Sick family members should isolate themselves in one area of the home to avoid contact with other members of the family and pets. The infected person should wear a mask when interacting with others, including at home. Care givers should also wear a mask while caring for a sick family member in addition to frequently washing their hands, sanitizing surfaces, and avoiding touching their face.
Going Out in Public
The CDC informs us that there are potential risks involved with going out in public right now. The more people we are around and the longer we are around them, the higher our chances are of contracting COVID-19. In an attempt to make our public outings safer, we should make sure we are wearing cloth face coverings, socially distancing at a distance of 6 feet apart, choosing activities in outdoor spaces, and practicing good hand hygiene. The CDC also put forth guidelines and operating procedures for restaurants, pools and beaches, and amusement parks to help us stay safe during outings.
When accessing a restaurant, to decrease the risk of infection, the CDC recommends that patrons continue to wear face coverings when not eating and drinking and continue to maintain a safe social distance. If possible, dining outside is preferable. Staff members should be required to wear face coverings. The restaurant’s bathrooms should be adequately supplied with soap to enable patrons to wash their hands when entering and leaving the restaurant. The CDC rates restaurants that are only using the drive-thru, curbside pick-up, and delivery options as having the lowest risk for transmission of the virus. Restaurants that pose the highest risk are those that are not practicing social distancing and allowing for both inside and outside dining.
If you decide to access pools and beaches, the CDC recommends face coverings when not swimming in the water. Although there is currently no evidence showing the transmission of COVID-19 through water at pools and beaches, these venues should also be taking extra safety measures. Some of these measures include cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, such as railings and lounge chairs, and properly washing and sanitizing towels, if provided to patrons. Pools and beaches should be posting signs as to how to stop the spread of the virus and promoting social distancing in and out of the water.
When accessing amusement parks, make sure to following the CDC’s guidelines for wearing face coverings, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene. One can also make sure that the CDC’s recommendations for the safe operation of traveling amusement parks and carnivals are being followed. Some guidelines include the staff wearing face coverings, frequently washing their hands, and staying home when sick. Signs should be posted as to how to reduce the transmission of the virus in addition to PA system announcements and messages on social media. Surfaces should be frequently cleaned and disinfected, including those used by patrons during games, such as balls, hammers, and toy guns. Lines should be eliminated whenever possible, or there should be signs or tape on the ground to keep patrons 6 feet apart. Rides and attractions should have reduced seating capacity to further promote social distancing.
Can Georgia Businesses Be Held Liable if Customers Contract Covid-19?
As businesses reopen and try to get back to a new normal, there are some concerns about whether customers can sue if they contract the virus at a business. To avoid this issue, some business owners have begun asking customers to sign waivers of liability or releases to protect their businesses from lawsuits. It would be difficult to prove that someone was infected with the virus at a particular business location when there is up to a 2 week incubation period. Proving that a business did not follow operating guidelines set forth by the CDC would be less of an uphill battle.
However, on June 26, 2020, the Georgia General Assembly passed Senate Bill 359 which will protect businesses, health care providers, and others from civil lawsuits results from COVID-19 infections. There are exceptions based on gross negligence, wantonness, and intentional acts. Businesses also need to post a warning sign at the entry point that includes specific statutory language in the size and font specified in Senate Bill 359.
Some businesses are taking matters into their own hands and requiring patrons to wear face masks if they want to enter the property and posting their policies on their website letting visitors know they are responsible for assuming the risk of contracting the virus. Six Flags Over Georgia, for example, developed and posted its own health and safety plan that follows the CDC guidelines. Some of their policies include the wearing of face masks, except when riding water attractions, and temperature checks as guests and employees enter the park. Their health and safety policy clearly states that they cannot promise guests will not be exposed to the virus during their visit. If guests decide to visit the park, they are agreeing to take on that risk, which is a way for the park to protect itself during the pandemic.
What Should I Do if I Am Not Legally Required to Wear a Mask?
During these unprecedented times, try to keep yourself and your family safe by following Governor Kemp’s executive orders and the guidelines set forth by the CDC. Wearing a face covering when leaving your home, although not legally required in Georgia, is an easy and effective way to slow the spread of COVID-19 and is highly recommended. If you are visiting restaurants, pools, or amusement parks, make sure these businesses are following the CDC’s recommended operating guidelines.
If you feel that you sustained an injury that was a result of someone else’s negligence during this difficult time and to see if you may have a legal case, please contact Williams Elleby at 833-LEGALGA (833-534-2542) for a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.