By Tia Lynn Ivey
As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, the City of Madison voted to extend the local state of emergency declared earlier this month, which requires city residents to shelter-in-place and non-essential businesses to close, until the end of April. The city is choosing to go further than the State of Georgia’s current mandatory shutdowns and social distancing requirements and is calling upon Morgan County officials adopt countywide state of emergency restrictions on public gatherings and business closings.
“We had hoped the county would follow the city’s lead and maybe we can encourage them to,” said Madison Mayor Fred Perriman at a special-called city council meeting on Monday, March 30.
During the meeting, council members reviewed the most recent data on COVID-19 and the best measures to enact in order to slow down the spread of the upper-respiratory virus that is highly contagious and potentially lethal. City leaders defended the local state of emergency ordinance, despite criticism from some state officials and the county’s reluctance to follow suit.
“I was bit disappointed in reading an article that some of the Governor’s advisors are pushing back or criticizing cities…for taking the lead on this and really locking their cities down to enact emergency ordinances or states of emergency,” said City Manager David Nunn. “At the end of this, I think everything we have learned from the large cities is that they acted too slowly. I know we don’t have the population density of Atlanta, New York or Los Angeles or a lot of places, but it’s all been demonstrated that one infected person in a group gathering—whether it’s a worship service, funeral, social group or restaurant or whatever it is—can cause an explosion. We wouldn’t have to have many cases here to overwhelm our little hospital. So, I say we stay the course until we know this thing is done.”
The council discussed the recent incident in Albany, Georgia that made national headlines after more than 200 cases of the virus developed after a funeral service.
City Councilwoman Chris Hodges said she has received numerous calls from county residents complaining of social gatherings in neighborhoods and subdivisions. She urged the council to council to urge collaboration with the county to present a unified message and unified standards to the public.
“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. We all need to be partners in this,” said Hodges. “To mitigate any kind of environment where we have a potential to be a hotspot, can we work with the county or try to encourage the county? To at least, if they are not willing to do a shelter-in-place ordinance, to do something about their neighborhoods where people are interacting when they really aren’t supposed to? And these are neighborhoods just beyond the city limits so these are people coming into our city and we are all doing what we are supposed to be doing. There’s a lot of mixed messaging throughout the country and throughout here, so if we could all just get on the same page to help our citizens all understand the importance of this.”
Hodges noted that surrounding cities and counties, such as Oconee, Rockdale, Newton, and Hancock counties, have all come together to respond the coronavirus pandemic.
“We need to stand together as ‘One Morgan,” said Hodges. “This is an opportunity to send the right message and collaborate on enforcement when necessary.”
County leaders believe the action they have taken is sufficient in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
“The county already acted at the very beginning of this situation by closing county offices to walk-in traffic, postponing recreation events, and providing daily updates to the media,” said County Commissioner Chairman Philip von Hanstein. “We stand shoulder to should with the cities and their decisions of how to best deal with this unique experience. Together, we hope that everyone does their part, so that we can overcome this and be back to normal soon.”
“We have been in constant communication with state and federal officials ever since the isolation unit was ‘stood up’ at Hard Labor Creek State Park on Monday, March 9, 2020 related to COVID-19,” said County Manager Adam Mestres. “The county provides near daily updates on the COVID-19 situation through the county website, Facebook, and Twitter. We have met with our faith-based community, educational leadership, local medical community, and city leaders regarding how to best deal with this situation. County services began closing as early as Friday, March 13, 2020. The County’s message continues to be the same to our residents: wash your hands often with soap and water; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; avoid close contact with people who are sick; cover your coughs and sneezes; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily; if you are sick, stay home; and, most importantly practice good social distancing by avoiding crowds larger than 10 people and maintaining at least six feet between each other. We will continue to be in contact with our federal, state, and local stakeholders in order to allow for an appropriate response for each jurisdiction in the county.”
County leaders did not comment on any future plans to issue a shelter-in-place ordinance or to close down any county businesses.
City leaders believe a countywide state of emergency would better help protect the health of all citizens.
Councilman Eric Joyce stressed the health of citizens is the top priority.
“I am more convinced today that we are doing the right thing in Madison than I was even last week,” said Joyce. “I feel for the businesses that are affected and I feel for the changes in lifestyle that we all have had, but those are small prices to pay to protect our citizens and that’s the critical thing…we want to be ahead of the curve and the models all around the country show that’s the key thing to do.”
According to the city’s ordinance all residents “shall shelter at their place of residence. All persons may leave their residences only for essential activities, essential government functions, or to operate essential businesses.”
The ordinance prohibits all public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a household or living unit.
“This does not apply to religious services, though such gatherings are also discouraged,” said a press release from the city. “While parks currently remain open for solitary recreation and exercise, certain recreation areas within them have been closed.”
The ordinance also requires all non-essential businesses to close—to “cease all activities at facilities located within the city except minimum basic operations or employees working from home.” City officials are encouraging essential businesses, such as healthcare facilities, grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants providing takeout-only services, and manufacturing facilities, to comply with social distancing requirements. People ought to stay at least six feet apart.
The full declaration may be found online at Madisonga.com/covid-19.