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How local governments are enforcing new COVID-19 rules
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Customers of the Collegiate Grill wait outside on the sidewalk Wednesday, March 25, 2020, for their food orders. Since the Gainesville City Council passed a resolution restricting restaurants and bars to takeout service only, restaurants in downtown Gainesville are learning to serve their customers to-go orders curb-side. - photo by Scott Rogers

By Nick Watson and Megan Reed

As local governments pass restrictions on businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19, they are tasking their police departments and code enforcement with checking on compliance.

Oakwood has required restaurants to close their dining rooms and shut down gyms and other fitness centers. City Manager B.R. White said Oakwood has not had any compliance issues yet, and the police department is enforcing the rules. If police find a violation, officers will issue a citation and a judge will set the fine.

White said 35 of the 44 restaurants in Oakwood had closed their dining areas voluntarily before the city issued the rules. 

Braselton has issued a stay-at-home order, and residents are only allowed to leave home for essential activities like getting food or medicine. Non-essential businesses are required to close, and restaurants have been ordered to close their dining rooms. Town Manager Jennifer Scott said the Braselton Police Department is enforcing the order. 

“We are operating on a complaint driven process and educating rather than penalizing.  The ordinance would allow a citation for a misdemeanor if the police felt it was necessary,” Scott said in an email.

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A lone man carries a board and tools across Main Street Tuesday, March 31, 2020, in downtown Gainesville. With many businesses closed or restricted to enforce social distancing, governments are turning to code enforcement or police to keep people separated. - photo by Scott Rogers

In Flowery Branch, where restaurant dining rooms have been ordered to close, police are also enforcing.

“The Flowery Branch Police Department is checking on restaurants during their regular patrol rounds and so they would be the enforcing entity,” City Manager Bill Andrew said in an email. “Any sanctions would be considered on an as-needed basis. Our goal is compliance and not sanctions.”

Restaurants in unincorporated Hall County have also been ordered to close their dining rooms, and the county has passed a joint resolution with Gainesville and local health care providers asking people to stay home.

County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said the county’s main goal is educating the public. However, the county has the ability to issue citations if needed, although the Hall County Marshal’s Office procedures call for issuing warnings before citations.

The joint resolution asks people to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of the virus, although that is a request and not a mandate. 

Gainesville has closed restaurants’ dining rooms and fitness centers, movie theaters, live performance venues, bowling alleys and arcades in city limits. The city’s code enforcement division will reach out to businesses not in compliance to educate them about why they should not be open. City spokeswoman Christina Santee said the Gainesville Police Department will assist if needed or the business is refusing to comply.

For a complete roundup of cities and their emergency orders, click here.

Anyone who fails to comply after being addressed by code enforcement or police is subject to a fine of up to $1,000. 

Georgia Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said the governor’s executive order closing bars and nightclubs allows the department to “mandate the closure of any business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization not in compliance with this order for a period not to extend beyond the term of this order.” The executive order expires April 6.

People can file complaints regarding businesses not in compliance to

At parks and lakes, the Department of Natural Resources said people continuing to not comply with the rules may possibly face a charge of reckless conduct.

And the Department of Public Health said failure to comply with its administrative order regarding quarantine for people with known or suspected COVID-19 may also result in a misdemeanor charge.

“If the department has reasonable grounds to believe that a person subject to quarantine or isolation refuses to comply with the requirements of this order, the department may provide information to law enforcement as necessary to ensure compliance and facilitate criminal prosecution,” according to the March 23 administrative order. “Further, any person who refuses to isolate or quarantine himself or herself as required by this order may be subject to further action by the department, including a court order for involuntary detention in an appropriate facility other than the one specified above, or such other action as the department may deem necessary to the protect the public’s health.”

A misdemeanor is punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and/or 12 months jail incarceration.