By a 3--2 vote, the Coweta County Board of Commissioners voted to close certain types of businesses and stop dine-in service at restaurants in light of the danger of the COVID-19 virus.
The ordinance also forbids public or private gatherings of more than 10 people that occur outside of a household or living unit. The 10-person limit doesn’t apply to business operations.
The new ordinance, passed during an emergency meeting held by teleconference Wednesday afternoon, takes effect Thursday at 8 a.m. and runs until April 8, unless extended.
The restrictions in the county’s ordinance mirror those in the ordinance that the Newnan City Council passed at a meeting earlier onWednesday.
The ordinance doesn’t distinguish between “essential” and “nonessential” businesses, but instead lays out specific categories of businesses that will have to close during the health crisis.
Gyms, nail salons, pool halls, bowling alleys, social clubs, theaters, massage parlors and any facility used for grooming – such as a hair salon or barber shop – entertainment, social or “general health and wellbeing purposes” must close and remain closed for the duration of the emergency.
The closure applies to any facility used for an activity that involves prolonged physical proximity of individuals.
Any business that remains open must post signs on its doors informing customers to maintain at least 6 feet of personal distance between themselves and others. If those distances can’t be maintained in a business because of space or other constraints, that establishment can allow no more than 10 people inside at any time.
Restaurants can offer delivery, drive-thru or takeout food. If a restaurant already is licensed to sell beer or wine, it can include unopened beer or wine with orders..
Everyone involved in a restaurant, including customers and employees, must remain at least 6 feet apart as much as possible given the physical restraints of the premises.
Cowetans are asked to voluntarily stay at home unless they are on errands dealing with an emergency, procuring or seeking an essential service; going to or from work; traveling through the county; providing essential food, medicine or medical care for themselves or another person; or taking part in personal or family activities such as walking, jogging and cycling.
Any business that is unsure of whether or not the ordinance applies should seek clarification from Coweta County Administrator Michael Fouts at firstname.lastname@example.org or 770-254-2601, or from Assistant County Administrator Kelly Mickle at email@example.com .
At the beginning of the meeting, Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, director of District 4 Public Health, was asked to talk about the situation in Georgia.
Right now, he said, the focus of the pandemic is in New York.
“The point of this meeting, and the activities we are trying to avoid in our state, is to avoid us getting to where New York is, probably in the next week or two, and to reduce transmission,” Obasanjo said. “We cannot eliminate, but reduce it...to where our health care facilities do not become inundated with people and we don’t become like Italy, where they literally have people lying on hospital floors without being cared for."
At times, commissioners and staff had difficulty hearing each other because of background noise from others on the call – despite multiple requests by commissioners and staff that those on the call mute their lines.
As with other county ordinances, enforcement will be through the county’s code enforcement office. Commissioner Bob Blackburn asked if the fines and jail time that typically apply to county ordinance violations can be waived for the emergency ordinance.
County Attorney Jerry Ann Conner said commissioners could specify penalties in theordinance, as long as they didn’t go over the maximum penalties in the county’s other ordinances.
By that time, a motion had already been made to approve the ordinance, and no motion was made to change the penalties.
Coweta Code Enforcement typically starts with warnings before issuing citations.
The vote was Chairman Paul Poole and commissioners Tim Lassetter and Al Smith in favor, with Blackburn and Rodney Brooks opposed.
After a motion had been made to adjourn the meeting, Blackburn said he’d like to nullify this meeting because of the “lack of communication of the parties.”
“No,” said Poole. “I’m voting to close the meeting. “
Several people listing in on the meeting asked if car dealerships would be included in the closure.
Conner said after the meeting that car dealerships are not included in the types of businesses required to close.
No public comment was allowed at the meeting, though there was a lively conversation on the conference call after the meeting ended.
“Everything is still open, so keep on going to work and get sick,” said one woman.