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Update, 4:07 p.m.:
Hall County has issued a stay-at-home order requiring people who live in unincorporated Hall to stay at home unless they are leaving for an essential activity. The Hall County Sheriff's Office will be enforcing the rule.
Sheriff Gerald Couch said that while the Sheriff's Office will have the authority to issue citations, the county will emphasize educating the public about the rules. County Administrator Jock Connell said the resolution is similar to the one Gainesville passed Wednesday morning. The order only applies to unincorporated Hall County and not any municipalities.
Starting April 2, Gainesville residents are required to stay at home unless they are leaving for an essential activity.
The Gainesville City Council unanimously approved the measure the morning of Wednesday, April 1, as part of the city’s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Essential activities include getting medicine or health care services, buying groceries or pet supplies, or going to work at an essential business.
People are allowed to do outdoor activities like walking, hiking, running or cycling. Another exemption is “essential infrastructure” work such as garbage pickup, public works construction and the providing of internet services.
The order passed Wednesday also requires non-essential businesses to close, although they can continue operating with employees working from home.
Essential businesses allowed to stay open include grocery stores, health care providers, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, laundromats and dry cleaners, news media, plumbers, electricians, exterminators and establishments that help those in need like shelters.
Hair and nail salons will be required to close.
Essential travel will be allowed. That includes traveling to take care of the elderly, minors, dependents and people with disabilities. People who live in Gainesville but have been out of town are allowed to travel home, and people who have been in the city but live somewhere else can travel out of the city.
Any person showing COVID-19 symptoms recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should not enter public buildings, restaurants, shops and other areas where the public is located. Symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
The city had previously closed restaurants’ dining rooms and fitness centers, and those rules remain in place. Restaurants can continue providing food for takeout.
City Manager Bryan Lackey said officials have been monitoring the spread of the virus and have seen recent increases of cases in Hall County. The city passed a joint resolution with Hall County and the Northeast Georgia Health System on Friday, March 27, asking people to stay home as possible. Lackey said conversations about how to address the virus continued over the weekend and into the next week, with the Council issuing a shelter-in-place order Wednesday.
The order is effective until the Council votes to withdraw it.
The Gainesville Police Department will be enforcing the rules, and anyone with a concern about noncompliance can call the non-emergency dispatch number at 770-534-5251. Lackey said the city does not have plans for checkpoints to stop people on the road and ask about their travel.
The city could issue a fine of up to $1,000 if an individual or business refuses to comply. Officials will be working with businesses and the public to educate them about the change.
Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the county does not currently have plans for its own shelter-in-place order. The Hall County Board of Commissioners has issued a statement about the virus.
“The Hall County Board of Commissioners has been actively working with public health experts, Hall County staff and many other local agencies to protect the health and wellness of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement reads. “While a stay at home order is not currently in effect for unincorporated Hall County, a number of positive steps have been put in place in order to prevent the spread of the virus.”
In addition to the joint resolution asking people to stay home, commissioners have closed restaurants’ dining rooms and promoted the CDC guidelines of hand-washing and social distancing. Restaurants are still allowed to offer takeout, delivery and drive-thru service.
Douglas Young, professor of political science at the University of North Georgia, said restrictions like those that governments have been passing during the pandemic have some precedents in wartime.
“Though we are not in a shooting war, the government claims fighting the coronavirus is the equivalent of war,” Young said in an email. “Especially if the bipartisan support for quarantining and social distancing continues, I suspect the courts will again defer to government officials and support the emergency violations of our First and Fourth Amendment rights.”
For example, Young said during World War II, cities had mandatory blackouts at night and there was more government censorship of the press. World War I is another example.
“President Woodrow Wilson signed the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act passed by Congress, which basically suspended the First Amendment by making it a crime to criticize the federal government's prosecution of the war,” Young said. “Many thousands of Americans were imprisoned for merely opposing the war, and the High Court upheld the government.”