Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz is appealing to Governor Brian Kemp for help in reducing the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Athens. As part of that effort, the mayor sent a letter to the governor with two recommendations on how to stem the tide.
“One, clarity around what can be done in bars. Right now, the order is strangely worded in a way that provides lots of loopholes for bars, but what we really need is a bar environment that looks much more like a seated restaurant environment.”
That means having patrons seated at tables, socially distanced, and served at tables. No standing-room-only environments.
Girtz also wants crowd sizes at private parties drastically reduced.
He wants to cut that to a 10-person limit down from 50.
“I would challenge any of your listeners to think of the last party they were at where 50 people were there, and to name all 50.”
Girtz says it is possible to do both; have thousands of college students back in town and keep numbers down.
“I think we can, but it’s going to take everybody at the table. I think the governor having some opportunity in his orders that’s not there that I asked for, it's gonna take our messaging and enforcement, it's gonna take greater testing on behalf of the university, and lots of other things as well.”
The letter also states Athens had relatively low infections and death rates until August when student activity resumed. The full letter can be viewed on our website at WUGA.org.
Full Letter Below:
September 21, 2020
Thank you for directing me to Ms. Broce last week when I reached out; she and I were able to discuss the safety measures that are needed to blunt the high case count numbers coming from Clarke County. The communitywide safety protocols that have been in place here since March, along with the significant use of distance learning and array of response measures on the University campus, allowed Clarke to realize relatively low COVID-19 case and death metrics until August when student activity resumed.
My strong recommendations to you are in regard to two environments:
- In bars, police officers and prosecuting attorneys need more clarity from the current Executive Order to ensure that seated environments and table service are the only manner of operation allowed. This could be achieved either through more definitive language in the order itself (i.e. eliminate “as practicable” and “if applicable” terms) or through a supplemental memo or FAQ document, as was provided following some earlier orders.
- House gatherings continue to be problematic. The 50 person gathering limit simply allows much greater opportunity for spread, and ensures that contact tracing efforts become extremely challenging. A ten person limit, at least for counties with high case counts (such as those that have experienced 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the prior two weeks) would provide a much stronger public health platform. This is in line with national and international recommendations, and has been successfully pursued by neighboring states and college communities. In the image below from a recent Athens party, you can see a scene that is perfectly dangerous, but perfectly legal under the current order.
Without stronger tools, the hands of localities are tied, and we face the prospect of continued spread. Given that our there are several communities in Georgia that are facing high case counts following the start of the academic year, these measures will be particularly helpful to cities across the state.
Thank you for your consideration,