ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp issued a shelter in place order Friday for the entire state of Georgia, citing a confusing patchwork of local responses to stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus and a need to "flatten the curve" immediately.
As of noon on April 1, three people in Clayton County are dead from COVID-19 and 122 others have tested positive as local governments have moved towards stronger measures to prevent people from spreading the virus.
"Government is not going to fix this," Kemp said, saying now is the "crunch time" for people to stay inside and stop the spread. He said the peak for "this wave" is mid-April, meaning Georgians could be stuck at home through May. Kemp also shut down all K-12 schools for the rest of the school year.
The cities of Forest Park and Riverdale, along with unincorporated Clayton County, have upped the ante by requiring residents to stay home and non-essential businesses to close. Jonesboro, which had an emergency declaration in place, met Wednesday, April 1, unanimously passing a shelter in place order within the city limits.
Mayor Joy Day and City Manager Ricky L. Clark, Jr. said Jonesboro's first case of COVID-19 was confirmed earlier this week. Day said he is a 50-year-old man with no underlying health issues, and Clark conveyed the city's prayers and support for the resident and his family.
Day said the city needed to impose stronger restrictions after mourners gathered in large numbers in the Watkins Funeral Home parking lot despite the existing emergency order. Councilwoman Donya Sartor said she didn't "want Watkins to feel like we're picking on him." Day said, "I really hate it. It's tough on families....It's just an unbelievable, horrible situation."
The new order bans all gatherings, including weddings, funerals, religious services and parties.
As more cases were confirmed in Clayton County, people ignored social distancing advice, and area hospitals reach their limits for providing COVID-19 care, some political leaders started putting teeth in what had been a polite suggestion. For example, in Forest Park, violating the shelter in place ordinance can get you a $1,000 fine and possible jail time. Jonesboro followed Forest Park's leadf, instituting a warning for first offense and a $1,000 fine or jail time for repeat violations. Riverdale's ordinance specifically used the word "curfew."
Lake City had not declared an emergency or curfew prior to the statewide order. "Currently we are operating under the State of Emergency declared by Governor Kemp," City Manager Chris Leighty said before the statewide order. "Lake City City Hall is closed to the public since March 16th, and we have staff who will begin working from home tomorrow (March 31) for 14 days."
Morrow, which prides itself on having gotten out in front of COVID-19 preparations ahead of other cities, had not issued a shelter in place order by press time. According to a notice on the city's website, "Businesses and residents within the City of Morrow are requested to maintain the practice of social distancing and safety precautions to help slow the spread. The City of Morrow will continue to follow guidance in accordance to the Federal and State Guidelines for COVID-19."
On March 13, Lovejoy closed all city facilities.
Each governing body has acknowledged concerns about business closings in their discussions of the emergency. Over and over, officials with differing views on how to handle the emergency acknowledge that all parties have their citizens' best interests at heart.
Some opponents of stricter measures point to definitions of "essential business" and "essential activities," saying the texts of the ordinances are confusing. Rep. Valencia Stovall, who along with other members of the Clayton County legislative delegation is in quarantine after a single state senator exposed the entire General Assembly to COVID-19, sent an e-mail to Forest Park officials, saying residents did not understand whether they could leave their homes for essentials like groceries. (Under all the ordinances, they can.)
Stovall urged city officials to "revise your existing ordinance immediately to provide details on essential businesses," adding not every resident had gotten a copy of the ordinance "and some do not have access to the Internet or know how to operate it, more specifically, our senior citizens."
Many readers inundated our Facebook page, chat and inbox with questions about their particular situations hours before the shelter in place order for unincorporated Clayton County went into effect. Some were confused by the four pages of "whereas" clauses. Others wanted to know whether their jobs or businesses (especially auto dealerships and lawn care companies) were considered "essential" under the attached list. Still others wanted to contact their elected officials or find food for their families but did not know where to start.
A few were convinced the whole thing was a political stunt or hoax.
Kemp said he and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey would be "up all night," making sure the order was as specific as possible so as to dispel any confusion about what is and is not allowed.
Watch Gov. Brian Kemp's press conference announcing the statewide shelter in place order:
For all the latest COVID-19 news, follow news-daily.com/coronavirus