Georgia governor orders bars, clubs closed amid coronavirus
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s governor said Monday that he was ordering all bars and nightclubs in the state to close because of the coronavirus and giving state officials the authority to shut down businesses that don’t comply as the number of infections confirmed statewide reached 800.
The order will take effect at noon Tuesday and last for just under two weeks, Gov. Brian Kemp said at a news conference. He said the state would also ban gatherings of 10 or more people unless people could maintain a distance of 6 feet (2 meters). Kemp’s announcement did not mention restaurants.
“These measures are intended to ensure the health and safety of Georgians across our state,” he said. “And I would ask for everyone’s cooperation over the next two weeks.”
The measures fall short of orders issued in other states and what some lawmakers and health experts had sought. Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia joined states including California, Illinois and New York in asking or ordering their residents to stay home and keep businesses closed — directives that now cover more than one-third of the U.S. population.
Kemp said he would order people at increased risk from the virus to shelter in place. That population includes people in long-term care facilities, those with chronic lung disease and those undergoing cancer treatment, he said.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday evening thanked Kemp on Twitter for the updated guidelines and then announced city residents will need to stay at home for 14 days.
“Based upon our density & specific needs/concerns in Atlanta, I’ve signed a 14 day Stay at Home Order.”
The order does not include, for now, essential businesses, parks, the Atlanta BeltLine and restaurants serving takeout, the tweet said.
The restrictions in Georgia came as the number of cases of the virus in the state rose Monday evening to 800. The death toll rose to 26, increasing by one from Sunday. Kemp also joined several other governors in sending a letter to leaders in Congress asking that they approve additional funding to states in the form of block grants to fight the virus.
Kemp had previously ordered schools to close but refrained from taking stronger steps, leaving those decisions to local governments instead. Individual counties in Georgia have placed restrictions on businesses and gatherings.
The CEO of Metro Atlanta’s DeKalb County, Michael Thurmond, issued an executive order Monday that prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people, closes playgrounds and asks all residents to shelter in place “as much as possible.” Beginning Tuesday, the order stipulates that restaurants and bars are prohibited from having dine-in service and businesses such as bowling alleys, nail salons and barbers are limited to a maximum occupancy of 10 people.
DeKalb joins several counties including Athens-Clarke County, home to the University of Georgia, as well as hard-hit Dougherty County in southwest Georgia in implementing restrictions.
Dougherty County, where Albany is the county seat, continues to have the worst confirmed infection rate statewide. Its 64 cases are more than 10 times the positive rate statewide. Other counties with high infection rates include Bartow County in northwest Georgia and Lee County, a suburban neighbor of Dougherty County.
On Sunday, the mayor and county commission chairman issued an executive order making the conditions of a shelter-in-place order there more stringent, including requiring essential businesses such as grocery stores not to exceed 50% occupancy.
Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said during a news conference Monday that surrounding counties need to take similar precautions.
“County lines are really nothing more than a place in the sand,” Dorough said. “This virus is totally indifferent to county boundaries. So if people are coming into Albany to shop and to work, there have to be precautions taken in our surrounding counties.”
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Of those who died, the youngest two were 42 and the oldest two were 85, with an average age of 66, according to Department of Public Health records. Dougherty County has recorded six deaths, while Cobb County has five. No other county has more than two.
Meanwhile, Georgia Ports Authority executive director Griff Lynch said Monday that he was still hopeful a drop in cargo volumes would be just a short-term “blip” that would end by May. Lynch said cargo containers moving through the Port of Savannah appear to be down about 20% compared with last March. That’s because fewer imports are coming from China after the virus forced manufacturers to shut down.
Cargo shipped from Asia is already starting to rebound, Lynch said. But now he’s watching U.S. retailers. If stores are closed for extended periods and their inventories pile up, Lynch said, “we may not see the impact of that until the summertime.”
At least four members of the Georgia state Senate have now tested positive after Republican Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta became the first to do so last week. Republican Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta, Republican Sen. Bruce Thompson of White and Democratic Sen. Nikema Williams of Atlanta have announced positive diagnoses. Williams is also the chairwoman of the state Democratic Party.
Thompson said he was released from Northside Cherokee hospital Sunday after a period in the intensive care unit.
“While I am feeling much better, I plan to remain at home in self-quarantine for the immediate future,” Thompson wrote on Facebook.