The seven members of the Glynn County Commission unanimously voted to impose further checks on business activity and public gatherings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, closing many types of business through April 13.
Commissioners called an emergency meeting this morning to discuss laying more strict restrictions than those imposed by Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday.
During the two-hour virtual conference, commissioners voted 7-0 to impose an emergency order on both, which will take effect on Thursday at 6 a.m. and end on 11:59 p.m. April 13.
First, the order bans “community gatherings” of 10 or more people, which are roughly defined
“This follows CDC guidelines that suggest gatherings of more than 10 be restricted or prohibited,” said county attorney Aaron Mumford.
It does not apply to gatherings of fewer than 10 people and includes exemptions for certain activities and essential jobs.
“It is still suggested that groups of 10 or less maintain the social distancing of six feet or more,” Mumford said. “(And) it creates a general rule, prohibits more than 10, but also carves out some common, everyday exemptions for certain activities.”
From there, the order places lists other types of businesses that are either required to close or maintain social distancing among customers and staff.
“Social distancing” refers to the practice of keeping a six-foot distance from other people and avoiding physical contact general, which is currently recommended for all people by the Centers for Disease Control.
“We’re talking about restaurants in section 3, section 4 is bars and lounges, 5 is the body care services section. These are things where there’s large crowds or proximity to people is higher,” Mumford said.
All restaurant dining rooms would be closed to the public but could offer take-out, delivery, drive-through and curbside pickup.
Establishments that serve only alcohol for consumption on-premises are required to close at 6 a.m. tomorrow for the duration of the order.
Body care services include barbers and hair salons, massage therapy, tattooing, body waxing, tanning and nail salons must be closed for the duration of the order.
The order also closed many public parks and recreation facilities. Those that remain open are mostly passive parks and those with plenty of open space.
“What is allowed? ... These are open-air, passive areas. What comes to mind are parks like Neptune Park, Gascoigne (Park), the trails at North Glynn (Recreation Complex),” Mumford said.
The order also closes all pools regulated by the state Department of Public Health.
“This is not someone’s private, residential pool, these are pools like in an apartment complex ... community pools used by more than one property owner,” Mumford said.
Any businesses that are allowed to remain open — most commercial, retail and industrial — must enforce social distancing among customers or risk being shut down, with some exceptions.
Any violations of the order will be considered a violation of county ordinance, punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and up to 60 days in jail, Mumford said.
How exactly the order will be enforced and a point of contact for the public to report violations had not yet been decided, Mumford said. Commissioners would have to discuss the matter with county law enforcement personnel and code enforcement, he said.
All permits for events at public parks are canceled, all deadlines related to the renewal of occupational tax licenses will be extended 30 days past the end of the order.
“It would rescind and revoke events and (county facility) rentals through April 13. It wouldn’t go any further than that unless the order is extended,” Mumford said.
All regulatory deadlines related to planning and zoning and construction are also pushed pack.
Commissioners also considered reopening the county’s beaches but ultimately did not do so.
Last Friday, the commission voted to close the county’s beached through April 13 to encourage tourists to leave in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a discussion of restricting county parks, commission Chairman Mike Browning suggested opening the beaches for residents.
Commissioner Peter Murphy supported Browning, saying that the commission should open the beaches for a limited period in the mornings and evenings.
Several of their fellow commissioners opposed the move.
“If it’s overkill, so be it ... At least we can say we did what we possibly could to keep this virus away from healthy people,” said commissioner Bob Coleman.
He said it was time to “draw a line in the sand” and take a strong stance by keeping the beaches closed.
“What we’re trying to find is a balance between the draconian shelter-in-place (orders imposed on other cities) and an absence of restrictions,” Murphy said. “‘Let’s not overdo it right now,’ would be my only message.”
Commissioners David O’Quinn and Allen Booker were against reopening anything and possibly adding more establishments to the list of closures, such as picnic areas and golf courses.
“If we do too little people will die and people will suffer but if we do too much we’ll just get criticized for doing too much,” O’Quinn said.
Booker said that opening even for limited hours would attract people from all over, not just locals but residents from surrounding counties as well.
Commissioner Bill Brunson voiced concerns about unnecessarily exposing law enforcement officers to possibly infected persons in the process of opening or closing the beaches.
O’Quinn referenced a letter from the Southeast Georgia Health System encouraging the county to impose more strict restrictions on public activity.
“We’ve got a letter from the hospital telling to move forward and not move back,” O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn also threw out some numbers he got from a member of the public who he said had done some research on the rates of infection and death in other areas of the country.
“Of the 85,000 we may have in our community if we look at no social distancing, 65 percent of (county residents could contract the illness), 55,000 (could be) infected. Of those, 20 percent, about 11,000 showing severe symptoms. Of that, 2,700 would need medical care,” O’Quinn said. “We don’t have the healthcare infrastructure for those kinds of numbers.”
Murphy and Browning continued to make their cases. Browning saw it as an outlet for the other parks and way to prevent too many people from gathering elsewhere. He didn’t believe opening the beach for a few hours a day would attract many people from out of town.
They were unable to convince a majority of commissioners, however.