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Hall County, Gainesville, hospital leaders ask everyone to stay home 14 days
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Health care workers enter the mobile unit at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Friday, March 27, 2020. - photo by Scott Rogers

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People in Hall County are asked to stay home for at least 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19, after the Hall County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a joint resolution Friday with health care providers and the city of Gainesville.

People in Hall County are asked to stay home for at least 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19, after the Hall County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a joint resolution Friday with health care providers and the city of Gainesville.

“We collectively ask all people across our region to stay home for at least 14 days — leaving only for tasks required by their job and necessary needs such as food, medications and medical emergencies — to slow the spread of COVID-19,” the resolution reads. “We believe this action is necessary to save countless lives and enable local health care workers to provide optimal care to those in need.”

The resolution is effective immediately. It was a joint resolution with the Northeast Georgia Health System Board of Trustees, Northeast Georgia Medical Center Board of Trustees, the medical staffs of NGMC, the Hospital Authority of Hall County and City of Gainesville, Hall County and the city of Gainesville. 

The resolution is not a mandate, county spokeswoman Katie Crumley said, and citations will not be issued as enforcement.

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Signs outside of Downtown Drafts on the square in Gainesville let customers know they are open to take-out business only. Gainesville City Council passed a resolution Monday restricting restaurants and bars to takeout service only and closing fitness centers, movie theaters, live performance venues, bowling alleys and arcades in city limits. - photo by Scott Rogers

The Gainesville City Council also unanimously passed the resolution Friday afternoon.

“We’re also really imploring citizens to help and be part of the solution by choosing not to go out unless they need to (and) by choosing to social distance. This is a time when the entire community is really going to have to come together like never before, in no time that we’ve ever seen before,” councilwoman Juli Clay said Friday.

Clay said local leaders have looked at resolutions and orders from roughly 50 other communities, and she said she feels the response here is in line with others.

Mandating compliance by citizens is tricky, Clay said, because there are a number of reasons why someone could be out for essential services.

“We’re trying to leave some of the freedoms up to people and ask them to use the very best common sense that they have to do some of these things that will obviously slow the coronavirus,” Gainesville councilman George Wangemann said.

If something were to be mandated, Wangemann said it would probably work much better if it came from the state level rather than the municipal level.

Regarding the legality of making a mandate with enforceable penalties, Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Higgins said there has not been much research on what they can or cannot do in this arena.

“We hope that people would follow the direction. I think people are doing that. I don’t think there is as many people out as there were a week ago,” he said.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he also seen fewer people out in public.

“The majority of the people that I’m talking to are staying at home, unless they have to go to work or the grocery store or the doctor or the drugstore,” Dunagan said. “If you ride through the city of Gainesville and the square, it’s dead. There may be a few people out there wandering around, and there may be a couple sitting at a bench by themselves, but as a whole, I think our citizens are doing a good job.”

Dunagan said he was also unsure about the city’s ability to issue a mandate.

“I think we could, if the Council decided to, which I’m not in favor of right now, is a shelter in place, but I think that may be as far as we can go,” he said.

Councilman Sam Couvillon said officials want people to stay at home as much as possible and see the severity of the issue.

“I’m the kind of guy that wants to give people their freedoms and have as little government intervention as possible, but it’s just like each time we do something it just doesn’t seem to be enough,” Couvillon said. “So, we want people to have some self-responsibility and take it upon themselves to do the right thing, and I feel like if we just implore on them to stay at home except for if it’s absolutely necessary, then hopefully they’ll get the message.”

Couvillon, who works in insurance, said he has seen the economic effect of the pandemic as companies lay off employees and leave them without health insurance.

“It’s not something that I can just make a decision in a linear matter and just say, ‘OK, stay at home and everything is going to be better,’ because for the person who has to stay at home who is no longer receiving a paycheck and doesn’t have health insurance to pay for his medicine, things are just as perilous for him,” Couvillon said.

Nick Watson contributed.