The ACC Commission voted 8-1 to move last call for alcoholic beverages from 2 am to 10 pm.
UPDATE (7/31/20): Judge Eric Norris has issued a temporary restraining order, preventing enforcement of this ordinance for now after a lawsuit was filed by bar owners.
The earlier time was considered necessary to help contain the threat of COVID-19, which has been spreading rapidly in Athens in recent weeks. Since July 1, case numbers in Athens have nearly tripled: 1,591 people have so far contracted COVID-19 here, with 108 being hospitalized and 16 having died from the disease as of today.
Despite this, UGA is still on track to reopen next month. The influx of new students will likely cause another spike in case numbers, but commissioners hope that changing this ordinance will help.
“By all epidemiological standards, this whole state should be shut down… We’re about to see thousands of college kids descending on this town. We’ve got to do something,” Commissioner Melissa Link said.
Mayor Kelly Girtz noted that many jurisdictions around the country, including the entire state of South Carolina, have already acted to set an earlier last call as a means of reducing COVID-19 spread.
Commissioner Patrick Davenport, who voted no, worried that the ordinance discriminated against businesses who are doing everything right. “It breaks my heart that the people who are actually following CDC guidelines are getting punished because of one or two bars,” he said.
Restaurants will still be allowed to serve food past 10 pm, as long as they stop serving alcohol.
Georgia’s early reopening has put the state among the top 10 in the nation for new COVID-19 cases, with over 182,000 statewide having contracted the disease. That means more people have contracted COVID-19 in Georgia than in many entire countries, including Japan, Poland, Australia and China combined.
The commission also extended the local state of emergency related to COVID-19 to September 3. The deadline for paying Occupation Tax and regulatory fees was pushed back to October 2.
Finally, as a way of softening the blow for bar owners, the ordinance instructs ACC staff to develop a system of credits to reduce alcohol license costs. Commissioner Tim Denson went one step further and proposed reducing the fees for alcohol licenses without going to the extra step of having a credit system. Other commissioners agreed and the ordinance passed 8-1 with this amendment.