While the Dahlonega City Council was passing a wide-reaching stay-at-home order in hopes of curbing the spread of COVID 19, Governor Brian Kemp was in the process of implementing his own executive order for residents of Georgia to stay at home.
That order, which was signed by Kemp on Thursday, April 2, essentially made the stricter ordinance unanimously passed by Dahlonega’s city council null and void, according to local officials.
“The governor’s action preempted our action and all other local more restrictive and less restrictive actions,” said Dahlonega Mayor Sam Norton. “So, we’re just going to set ours [ordinance] aside for now.”
It’s a move that frustrated city officials.
“I just hate that the state is actually proposing looser restrictions than the local jurisdictions and prohibiting us from taking the stance that our citizens want,” Norton said.
Kemp’s executive order, instructing Georgia’s 10.6 million residents to stay at home until April 13, stated that Georgia residents are instructed to isolate themselves except for “essential services,” such as buying groceries and medicines, seeking medical care or traveling to jobs required for “minimum basic operations” and “critical infrastructure.”
However, whereas the city council had defined those “essential services” in its ordinance, Kemp’s order did not define the jobs matching that description. Kemp’s executive order also failed to define the difference between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.
Instead, Kemp’s order directs that for businesses to remain open, they must screen workers for a fever of 100.4 degrees, cough or shortness of breath, must provide their employees with protective gear and must adhere to social distancing guidelines laid out in the executive order; among others.
Kemp’s order also mandated the closing down of gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, theaters, live performance venues, operators of amusement rides, body art studios, estheticians, hair designers and massage therapy businesses.
The executive order does allow for restaurants to continue offering carry-out and delivery service.
The order, however, does not address church services nor funerals, as the city council’s ordinance had.
The executive order voided several of the provisions put into place by the city council on Wednesday, including the two-week shutdown of day cares, the golf course at Achasta, and other restrictions which were outlined in in the city ordinance.
“We feel we know better what to do for our community because we were elected and hear from our constituents, but home rule can be preempted by a higher power like the governor in this case,” Norton said. “I question the wisdom, but day cares and golf courses are allowed to be open per the governor. They can legally do these things, but there are a lot of things people can do legally that can be reckless.”
It appears as though the statewide rules enacted through Kemp’s order override the patchwork of restrictions Dahlonega and Lumpkin County have adopted over the course of the past few weeks.
The powers of the county and the city governmental bodies were, “hereby suspended to the extent of suspending enforcement of any local ordinance or order adopted or issued since March 1, 2020, with the stated purpose or effect of responding to a public health state of emergency,” according to Kemp’s executive order.
Enforcement of all such ordinances and orders were suspended by Kemp while his order is in effect, except for ordinances and orders that are designed to enforce compliance with his executive order.
Though representatives of the county are still working to determine what it all means locally.
As a result the Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners will hold an emergency special called meeting Saturday, April 4 at 3 p.m. to discuss the order. The meeting is open to the public and can accessed at lumpkincounty.gov under Meetings and Agendas.
According to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) daily status report released at 11:28 a.m. Friday, the state of Georgia currently has 5,831 confirmed cases, 1,158 hospitalizations and 184 deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic. Lumpkin County has seven reported confirmed cases. The county’s numbers of confirmed cases jumped almost 50 percent two weeks after St. Patrick’s Day.
However, it is significant to consider that the data released by the DPH has been subject to a lag in reporting due to the varying time in which tests can be processed and that the numbers released by the DPH counts 507 confirmed cases as being from unknown counties.
“The Department of Public Health has said that it takes up to 10 days to get results, so that’s our lag time right there,” Norton said. “We don’t know the true numbers. We’re 10 days out from testing someone to getting results, and how many people could they touch in 10 days.”
Norton was further disturbed by the fact that Kemp admitted during his news conference that he was unaware that asymptomatic people could spread the virus.
“For the governor not to know that before is absolutely mind boggling to me,” Norton said.
Kemp’s stay-at-home order is scheduled to take effect today at 6 p.m.