City and county leaders are calling for residents to practice common sense and not take chances going out in large groups or on unnecessary trips.
That is the underlying intent behind two new ordinances passed by the Rome City and Floyd County commissions this week — ordering residents to shelter in place and only go out for essential activities.
It is the latest step local governments are taking to try and prevent the further spread of COVID-19 by the new coronavirus.
“We are asking folks to take a common sense approach to this and do the best they can to heed the advice,” Rome City Manager Sammy Rich said.
Neither order enacts a mandatory curfew for all residents or a shutdown of all businesses.
They do include a wide-ranging list of businesses that are deemed essential and should remain open, as well as others that should close for the safety of residents and to try to keep local hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with patients.
The Rome City Commission unanimously passed its order during its regular meeting Monday evening. Floyd County developed its own ordinance and passed it during the meeting of the county commission Tuesday evening.
“This is difficult. It’s a bad situation to be in to have to make this kind of decision,” County Commission Chair Scotty Hancock said. “But based on what we are hearing from medical experts and the Department of Public Health, we have to do something or this will continue to get worse.”
‘Get over this hump’
Leaders said several factors led to the introduction of these ordinances — including evidence that some people were not adhering to social distancing practices and the banning of groups of more than 10 people that was set forth in the joint state of emergency declaration passed by Rome, Floyd County and Cave Spring governments last week.
“We’re not telling people that they are not allowed to go out. It is a matter of what you want to do versus what you need to do,” Hancock said, adding that if people do go out they need to stay at least six feet from others.
The timeline for a call to shelter in place accelerated quickly on Monday after the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia held conference calls for local government leaders across the state with Dr. Carlos del Rio with the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta.
“He was explaining the situation as he saw it coming,” Rich said. “Part of that call was his plea that we needed to act now.”
One of the examples listed was the situation in Dougherty County in Southwest Georgia where Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany has reported 150 positive cases of COVID-19 and 11 deaths.
“The evidence speaks for itself. That really weighed heavily on us to go ahead and make a decision,” Rich said.
Both Rich and Hancock said they had hoped Gov. Brian Kemp would have announced a shelter-in-place order statewide. When that didn’t happen they took steps to enact their own local ordinances.
Hancock said del Rio’s words echoed what local medical and public health officials have impressed upon leaders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The medical community was telling us to do something more to get over this hump.”
Activities allowed by the City of Rome ordinance and not prohibited by the Floyd County order include all activities essential to health and safety, obtaining food or supplies, engaging in outdoor activities that allow people to comply with social distancing practices, such as walking, hiking, running or bicycling.
Activities pertaining to health and safety are traveling to get medical supplies or medication, visiting a health care professional or obtaining supplies needed to work from home.
Essential businesses that are exempt in the orders include health care facilities, pharmacies, grocery stores, farms and farmers’ markets, hardware stores, gas stations, convenience stores, auto supply and auto repair shops, media services, banks and repair services.
Restaurants are also allowed to remain open as long as they only allow delivery or carry-out, a practice that was initially part of last week’s order. Shipping and manufacturing facilities are also covered as essential.
Businesses mentioned that should be closed include gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, movie theaters, barber shops, hair salons, tattoo shops, tanning salons and nail salons,
Bars and taverns are also listed as being ordered to close unless they can sell beverages in sealed containers for consumption off premises.
Both orders are set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on April 7 unless the respective commission votes to extend them based on the situation at that time.