Commission Orders Mandatory 24/7 Shelter in Place (with exceptions)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission is ordering all of Athens to stay home as much as possible until April 7, 2020.

Say that again?

Emergency COVID-19 curfewDue to the ongoing threat of COVID-19, all non-essential businesses and non-profits are hereby closed to the public. All non-essential travel is prohibited. All gatherings of any size, in any location, public or private, are banned (besides sheltering at home with your family and several other exceptions, see below). Everyone is ordered to “self-isolate in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible.”

However, the police will not be arresting anyone for violating this order, and there are many exceptions as you can see below.

Why is this happening?

These emergency measures are considered essential to slow the spread of COVID-19, which had infected at least 8 people in Athens at the time of the commission meeting. This number is certainly an underestimate due to the low number of tests available and the large number of people who may be asymptomatic carriers of the disease. If this highly infectious virus is allowed to spread unrestrained, emergency care facilities in Athens would be quickly overwhelmed leading to perhaps hundreds of preventable deaths.

Five additional cases were confirmed in Athens since the commission issued their voluntary “shelter in place” order on Tuesday, March 17. Unless the rate of infection was slowed, each day for weeks or even months into the future would have resulted in more infections than the day before. Yet, some businesses and organizations such as the YMCA and Planet Fitness had remained open despite being asked to close. Therefore, the commission deemed that they had no choice but to enact a more comprehensive solution to protect public health.

Legal Reasons For Being Outside

Jesse Houle for ACC CommissionThe emergency shelter-in-place has some exceptions:

If you’re homeless
The homeless are exempted from this ordinance but are “strongly urged to obtain shelter, and governmental and other entities are strongly urged to make such shelter available.”

To go to work
Some businesses are allowed to remain open, and all businesses are allowed to perform “minimum basic operations” (see below).

To obtain necessary supplies for your health or safety
You are allowed to go to the grocery store, restaurant (takeout only), pharmacy, convenience store, doctor’s office or any other location to receive healthcare, to gather supplies for your health and safety or for a family member’s, to gather supplies that you need to work from home or to deliver those supplies to others who need them.

To get exercise
Walking, running, biking, hiking and other outdoor activities are still allowed. However, you must remain at least six feet from all people all at times.

To care for a family member or pet
You are allowed to travel to care for a family member or pet. For example, to walk your dog or to take a loved one to the doctor.

To return home
If you happen to be outside the county, you’re allowed to return home to Athens. Also, if you live outside the county and find yourself in Athens, you’re of course allowed to leave.

If ordered by a police officer or judge

Businesses Allowed to Remain Open

Some businesses must close to the public, but many are allowed to remain open:

  • Healthcare providers
  • Farms, ranches
  • Retail businesses that sell food (e.g. grocery and convenience stores)
  • Restaurants and liquor stores (carry out only)
  • Social services and homeless shelters
  • Newspapers and other media establishments
  • Gas stations, auto supply and repair
  • Banks
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  • Hardware stores
  • Plumbers, electricians and other services that allow for the safe and clean operation of homes and businesses
  • Post offices and shipping companies
  • Schools and educational institutions, provided students stay at least six feet apart (e.g. online classes).
  • Laundromats and drycleaners
  • Businesses providing products that allow people to work from home
  • Residential facilities (including hotels)
  • Home care businesses and non-profits
  • Transportation companies such as taxis, airlines
  • Legal, accounting and real estate companies
  • Childcare facilities, but under strict conditions

Even if your business must close to the public, you can still continue “minimum basic operations.” These are activities that maintain the value of inventory, provide security (such as for warehouses), and other basic functions such as processing payroll or administrative work that allows all other employees to work from home. However, all employees must try to stay 6 feet away from each other at all times.

Keep up with COVID-19 updates on the ACC website.

This ordinance goes into effect at midnight tonight, March 19, and will last until midnight, April 7, 2020 — unless it’s extended. Mayor Kelly Girtz was clear that no individual would be arrested or fined as a result of this order, but non-compliant businesses would receive a citation.

Commissioner Tim Denson suggested an amendment to this order to help service-sector employees and businesses in Athens who are already suffering through layoffs and reduced hours. His plan was to use the remaining $3 million of the prosperity package for things like micro-loans and for assistance in paying rent and utilities through organizations like The Ark. The whole commission agreed that the $3 million should be committed, but they decided to leave it open in the final ordinance about how this money should be spent to provide Manager Blaine Williams with more flexibility in implementation.

Additionally, commissioners have already taken the step of preventing utility shutoffs and are considering waiving all water bills for the month of April. The commission has also asked the Magistrate judges not to issue any eviction orders through mid-April.

The emergency shelter-in-place ordinance passed unanimously at the special session on March 19, 2020. If you still have questions about it, check out the local government’s FAQ page.

It seems we will all have lots of time to ourselves at home for a few weeks. It may be a good time to catch up on your Netflix queue or to watch videos on YouTube. You can check out all the new APN videos here.

UPDATE 3/27: Nurses in Athens are reporting a lack of personal protective equipment, but are not yet receiving hazard pay.

To help APN continue to provide news reports and coverage of the mayor and commission as they navigate the COVID-19 crisis, you can become a patron. It would be much appreciated!

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