The commission voted eight to one Thursday evening during a Special Called Session, passing a measure to modify the hours alcohol can legally be served in Athens Clarke County. Businesses will now only be allowed to sell liquor, beer, and wine by the drink until 10 pm.
Commissioner Tim Denson of District 5 said of the decision, “Hopefully by bringing about an early last call for bar owners, it will bring about an earlier last call for COVID-19.”
Commissioner Melissa Link of District 3 added that she hopes the move will mitigate the impact of returning UGA students on the virus’s spread throughout the community: “This is not an easy decision to make, but it is one that we have to make. The science is crystal clear. Bars are super spreader environments primarily because people do gather face to face and their inhibitions are down. Alcohol does not give you COVID, but it leads to behavior that does give you COVID. We’re about to see thirty thousand college students descend upon this town this weekend. We’ve got to do something.”
Though Commissioner Patrick Davenport of District 1 cast the sole dissenting vote, he stated, “Our hands are tied by the state. Since the state and federal government are not taking this as seriously as we would like them to be, the city government has to step in.”
But, Davenport added, “We seriously got to take a bigger, holistic approach to this thing. We’re picking and choosing losers, and we’re punishing the people who are doing a good job.”
As part of the ordinance, the county will reduce fees associated with liquor licenses in an attempt to relieve the financial strain business owners will likely experience as a result of the legislation. Mayor Girtz says that he has also been in contact with state and federal legislators, urging them to pass extended unemployment benefits. He asked both Commissioners and citizens watching to do the same.
The Commission also voted to update the declaration of emergency in Athens Clarke County, allowing restaurants to serve alcohol up to one hundred feet outside the walls of their establishment. The Commission also voted six to three to add language to the declaration of emergency allowing bar and restaurant patrons to remove their masks only while seated and eating or drinking.
View the Special Called Session here.