Photos by Jesse Walker
By Tia Lynn Ivey
On the heels of Morgan County’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus and Gov. Brian Kemp’s new mandatory public restrictions for the next two weeks, The Madison Mayor and City Council declared a local state of emergency Monday evening and grappled with a new local ordinance aimed to curb the spread of COVID-19. The council unanimously voted to enact a two-week emergency ordinance, beginning Tuesday, March 24 at noon until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, April. 6. The council may extend the ordinance at the end of the two weeks.
“This is a shutdown ordinance,” said City Manager David Nunn, who worried how the proposed restrictions on businesses and public gatherings would be applied fairly and enforced effectively.
Councilwoman Chris Hodges described the Governor’s new statewide restrictions as “weak” and “disappointing,” arguing the city’s emergency ordinance was vital to protecting the health and safety of Madison residents, as well as local healthcare workers.
“We need to rip the bandaid off…we have to step up and lead on this,” said Hodges. “We need everybody on board with this to protect our front line healthcare workers. We have to take care of them, so they can take care of us.”
City Councilwoman Carrie Peters-Reid agreed that the city must take drastic measures to combat the growing Coronavirus pandemic.
“I think we need to do something today, we are the leaders of Madison, Georgia,” said Reid before the unanimous vote passing the ordinance.
According to Nunn, the city’s new ordinance is far more stringent and comprehensive than Governor Kemp’s new statewide policies to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Governor’s executive order mandates all bars and nightclubs close, gathering of 10 or more are banned unless people can maintain six-feet of space apart at all times, orders the “medically fragile” and people infected with COVID-19 or exposed to the coronavirus to self-quarantine.
“He didn’t go very far,”said Nunn.
The new citywide ordinance requires all residents to “shelter in place” at their respective residences and to adhere to the rules of “social distancing,” including no gathering in groups of 10 or more and keeping six feet of space between each person when venturing out for work or other “essential activities.” The ordinance also closes all Madison restaurants’ indoor and outdoor dining areas, only allowing restaurants to conduct curbside, takeout, and delivery services. Retail businesses cannot be open to the public, but can take phone and internet orders and schedule special in-person appointments that “reasonably” comply with social distancing rules. Event facilities must be closed. Passive parks will remain open, but all contact sports are forbidden and playgrounds will be closed. No soccer, basketball, tennis or other recreational activities that require close contact will be allowed at any city parks during the next two weeks. Town Park, along with other city parks, will have signs erected to detail approved and forbidden activities. The new emergency ordinance does not establish a curfew for city residents.
The City noted that they could not legally restrict churches and religious institutions from gathering, but issued a stern plea for churches to forgo holding in-person services during this critical point of the pandemic.
“We strongly, strongly encourage them to worship an alternate way,” said Carter. “You cannot tell a religious institution what to do, but you can encourage them that if they care about their fellow man and don’t want to contaminate them, that they have to do this in a different way.”
City officials believe the new local state of emergency ordinance is warranted due to Madison’s significant senior population, the lack of available testing, the shortage of hospital beds and medical supplies throughout the state, and the rapid spread potential since many who contract COVID-19 can show no symptoms while unknowingly spreading the highly contagious and potentially lethal disease.
To avoid overwhelming Georgia’s hospitals and healthcare facilities and to protect the most vulnerable, city officials declared the local state of emergency in order to slow the transmission of COVID-19.
“This ordinance will not prevent all spread of the disease, but it tries to flatten the curve,” said City Attorney Jim Carter.
Citizens may leave their homes to partake in “essential activities,” such as grocery shopping, obtaining medical care, or outdoor exercise, or to work at “essential businesses,” such as manufacturing plants, grocery stores, or healthcare facilities. The ordinance includes an entire section listing essential businesses. For clarification reach out to City Manager David Nunn at the City of Madison at (706) 342-1251. The City will be notifying local businesses of the new standards and protocols.
As of press time on Tuesday, March 24, Georgia reported almost 775 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with 25 deaths.
Madison Mayor Fred Perriman urged citizens to remain positive and to think of each other during this critical pandemic.
“In Madison, we always pull together in a crisis,” said Perriman. “We encourage our citizens to do just that. We are in this together.”