2021: COVID-19 and the return to normal
Middle Georgia and the nation have come a long way from when we all first learned about coronavirus
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, but Middle Georgia and the nation have come a long way from when we all first learned about coronavirus and how it spreads. That’s why taking a look back shows us just how far we have come. The year 2021 started with local communities crafting COVID mandates and restrictions to safely reopen Georgia and get people back to work and school.
Statewide Governor Brian Kemp worked to get COVID-19 vaccines into more arms. In February, he announced plans to launch four mass vaccination sites across the state, including one at the Macon Farmers Market.
During the winter months, in-person events started to make a comeback too. They returned with pandemic protocols like temperature checks, face mask requirements and hand sanitizing stations. First, we saw the Georgia National Rodeo in February. Then there was the International Cherry Blossom Festival in March.
“We need some sense of normalcy, something to be excited about in Macon-Bibb County,” said Macon-Bibb Mayor Lester Miller.
Everyone came out to celebrate the pinkest party on earth, including Governor Kemp, who would go on to sign an Executive Order that eliminated gathering bans, removed shelter-in-place requirements for those most at risk and reduced social distancing requirements.
The spring signaled other signs of normalcy too. A judicial order from the Georgia Supreme Court allowed jury trials to resume in March and April. This helped local courts address a backlog of more than 900 cases. The Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority removed its 15 passenger limit and returned to full capacity with “Free Fare Days” in June.
By the summer, Governor Kemp signed his final COVID Executive Order stating the public health state of emergency in Georgia would end July 1. That was just in time for several summer events, like the Independence Day Celebration in Warner Robins.
“We’re really excited to get something going that makes us feel normal again,” said Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms.
Getting students in the “back-to-school routine” was difficult with debates over masks and school systems deciding on distance learning. But then the road back to normal hit a road block. The Georgia Department of Public Health started to report a surge in COVID cases. By August, Middle Georgia schools saw several canceled high school football games due to COVID-19.
Because of a summer surge, jury trials were placed on hold again. Cities like Perry canceled August events and re-enforced mask mandates. Governor Kemp even deployed the National Guard to help hospitals seeing an increase in COVID patients. This included Atrium Health Navicent in Macon and Houston Medical Center in Warner Robins.
The surge settled in September, and the fall brought back familiar functions again. This included the Labor Day Road Race in Macon and the October return of the Georgia National Fair in Perry.
Georgia closed out the year celebrating being named the “Top State for Doing Business” for the eighth year in a row. The Governor’s Office also touted record job creation, low unemployment and new economic development all during 2021 despite the pandemic.