Reopening to begin statewide

Subhead

Hart County businesses, officials react

  • Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol in Atlanta on April 20 to announce the reopening of some businesses statewide.
    Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at a news conference at the state Capitol in Atlanta on April 20 to announce the reopening of some businesses statewide.
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Some businesses previously shuttered by the governor’s shelter-in-place order will be permitted to resume operations once again on Friday, and even more businesses will be allowed to open their doors Monday, stirring a mix of public reaction.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced on Monday, April 20, that the state would begin easing restrictions in place on certain businesses on Friday, including allowing gyms, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, nail care artists and more to reopen, as he cited “favorable data, enhanced testing and approval of our health care professionals.” Restaurants will be allowed to open their doors for dine-in services once again on Monday. Places of worship are allowed to open back up too, but must adhere to strict social distancing protocols. Bars, nightclubs and live music venues will remain closed.

Local businesses responded swiftly on social media, with some saying they would open back up with their own restrictions, while others said they wouldn’t open back up for the time being. Porch and Home in Hartwell said in a Facebook post they would only allow six people in the store at a time and ask customers to wash their hands when coming into the store. Blush Hair Studio outlined numerous precautions for customers including staying in your car until your appointment time and they will not be accepting walk-ins. Contemporary Athletics, a gym in Hartwell, said it would not open yet as owners felt Friday was too early.

Hartwell Mayor Brandon Johnson said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the phased reopening of some parts of the state’s economy. Businesses locally have been significantly and negatively impacted by the pandemic-prompted closures. He fears if they last too long, Hartwell will suffer permanent losses. 

“I think the reopening is happening at about the right time for us,” Johnson said, noting that he thinks Hart County has been mostly good about distancing and following guidelines and have only minimal confirmed cases because of it. “I would like to commend our people for doing their part.” 

County administrator Terrell Partain said if local residents use common sense, protect themselves and respect their neighbors on a daily basis, Hart County shouldn’t face many challenges in the weeks ahead.

“If a place is crowded, don’t go in it right then,” Partain said. “But the businesses are going to have to conduct and try to control their crowds coming in and out I think for it to work. But hopefully people will do that and then they can get back into business.”

As the statewide death toll from COVID-19 grew to 818 as of Tuesday night, there is still the possibility of an outbreak locally. That is not lost on Johnson, which is why he said he is supportive of continuing to order the most vulnerable populations to continue sheltering in place and urging everyone to continue following the CDC guidelines as much as possible as things get back to somewhat normal. 

Partain said not only is there a possibility of a local outbreak, but he expects it.

“It’s a virus, after all, people are going to catch it,” Partain said. 

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hart County was still at six as of Tuesday evening, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Nearby counties have seen increases in the number of cases, including Stephens County where the number of cases nearly doubled for the second week in a row and is now up to 41 confirmed cases with one death. In Habersham County, 112 residents are confirmed to have the virus and two people have died from it.

“The circumstances are different in different counties,” Partain said. “The big outbreak Habersham got, that was one plant. It’s just like a nursing home, as long as you don’t get that first case in a nursing home, you’re good … Anywhere you have a mass group of people together, if one gets it there’s going to be several more who get it.”

Partain said the manufacturing plants in Hart County have done a good job by taking precautions daily.

District 2 Public Health spokesperson Dave Palmer said there could be a number of reasons why Hart County has seen a relatively low number of cases. 

“Some people, infected with the virus will experience only mild to moderate symptoms and may not seek medical care, and therefore are not tested,” Palmer said. “Another possibility is that fewer people have come into contact with the virus due to following social distancing and other preventive measures.”

Palmer acknowledged there could also be cases in Hart County that have not been assigned to the county. There were 483 confirmed cases in the state where the patient’s county of residence is listed as unknown on Tuesday evening. He said these are test results that have incomplete data when submitted. As these are resolved, they are moved to the correct county of residence. Palmer assumes that if there are cases in the unknown category for Hart County, it would be a small number.

More than 88,000 people statewide have been tested for COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Numbers on how many Hart County residents have been tested are not available, Palmer said.

KEMP DRAWS FIRE

Kemp’s move to reopen many businesses drew pushback from elected officials and health experts on Tuesday. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an interview with CNN she is “perplexed that we have opened up in this way” and that it’s not “based on anything that’s logical.”

 In his address Monday, Kemp said emergency room visits for flu-like symptoms have declined and “documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and appear to be declining.”

Carlos del Rio, who chairs the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, said Georgia has yet to meet the federal criteria for seeing a steady decline over a 14-day period before businesses should begin opening again. Grace Bagwell Adams, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Georgia, said in all likelihood, Georgia will see a resurgence in the number of cases. She also said testing is not comprehensive enough to quickly track where the virus is spreading.

LOCAL AID

Hart County has not received any money yet from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as of Tuesday, Partain said, besides medicare and medicaid funds for EMS to supplement costs they don’t normally cover. 

Partain said that is still a work in progress and he thinks legislation moving forward this week will benefit Hart County more than anything else.

“If it passes, that looks like it’s going to be a considerable amount of money to take care of the tax loss,” Partain said.

DEADLINES EXTENDED

On March 31, Kemp suspended Conservation and Forest Land Use Protection Act deadlines by executive order until June 1 from the normal April 1 deadline for making an application.

The Hart County Board of Tax Assessors, in an effort to bring all deadlines together, has extended the normal April 1 deadline until June 1. This includes Homestead Exemption. Returns of property will be accepted until June 1. For further information call 706-376-3997. 

EARLY VOTING

The Hart County Board of Elections will host early voting for the primary election, which was moved to June 9 statewide, at the AgriScience Center on Bowman Highway starting on May 18. The center is large enough to allow for social distancing during early voting. 

The board also has a drop box outside its offices on Cade Street in Hartwell that it will be allowed to use for dropping off absentee ballots under a statewide rule change in response to the pandemic. 

HOPE IN HARTWELL

In Hartwell, Mayor Johnson also commended the Hart County Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority for being diligent in ensuring information about small business aid and other options was disseminated. Now, as things appear to be on a slow track back to some sense of normalcy, Johnson is hopeful Hartwell can regain the momentum it had going into the pandemic and be ready for a great summer. 

“We just hope it (the local economy) comes back and it comes back quickly,” Johnson said.

Dave Williams and Beau Evans of Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report. Capitol Beat News Service is made possible by the Georgia Press Education Fund.

By Grayson Williams

Staff writer

 

Some businesses previously shuttered by the governor’s shelter-in-place order will be permitted to resume operations once again on Friday, and even more businesses will be allowed to open their doors Monday, stirring a mix of public reaction.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced on Monday, April 20, that the state would begin easing restrictions in place on certain businesses on Friday, including allowing gyms, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, nail care artists and more to reopen, as he cited “favorable data, enhanced testing and approval of our health care professionals.” Restaurants will be allowed to open their doors for dine-in services once again on Monday. Places of worship are allowed to open back up too, but must adhere to strict social distancing protocols. Bars, nightclubs and live music venues will remain closed.

Local businesses responded swiftly on social media, with some saying they would open back up with their own restrictions, while others said they wouldn’t open back up for the time being. Porch and Home in Hartwell said in a Facebook post they would only allow six people in the store at a time and ask customers to wash their hands when coming into the store. Blush Hair Studio outlined numerous precautions for customers including staying in your car until your appointment time and they will not be accepting walk-ins. Contemporary Athletics, a gym in Hartwell, said it would not open yet as owners felt Friday was too early.

Hartwell Mayor Brandon Johnson said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the phased reopening of some parts of the state’s economy. Businesses locally have been significantly and negatively impacted by the pandemic-prompted closures. He fears if they last too long, Hartwell will suffer permanent losses. 

“I think the reopening is happening at about the right time for us,” Johnson said, noting that he thinks Hart County has been mostly good about distancing and following guidelines and have only minimal confirmed cases because of it. “I would like to commend our people for doing their part.” 

County administrator Terrell Partain said if local residents use common sense, protect themselves and respect their neighbors on a daily basis, Hart County shouldn’t face many challenges in the weeks ahead.

“If a place is crowded, don’t go in it right then,” Partain said. “But the businesses are going to have to conduct and try to control their crowds coming in and out I think for it to work. But hopefully people will do that and then they can get back into business.”

As the statewide death toll from COVID-19 grew to 818 as of Tuesday night, there is still the possibility of an outbreak locally. That is not lost on Johnson, which is why he said he is supportive of continuing to order the most vulnerable populations to continue sheltering in place and urging everyone to continue following the CDC guidelines as much as possible as things get back to somewhat normal. 

Partain said not only is there a possibility of a local outbreak, but he expects it.

“It’s a virus, after all, people are going to catch it,” Partain said. 

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hart County was still at six as of Tuesday evening, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Nearby counties have seen increases in the number of cases, including Stephens County where the number of cases nearly doubled for the second week in a row and is now up to 41 confirmed cases with one death. In Habersham County, 112 residents are confirmed to have the virus and two people have died from it.

“The circumstances are different in different counties,” Partain said. “The big outbreak Habersham got, that was one plant. It’s just like a nursing home, as long as you don’t get that first case in a nursing home, you’re good … Anywhere you have a mass group of people together, if one gets it there’s going to be several more who get it.”

Partain said the manufacturing plants in Hart County have done a good job by taking precautions daily.

District 2 Public Health spokesperson Dave Palmer said there could be a number of reasons why Hart County has seen a relatively low number of cases. 

“Some people, infected with the virus will experience only mild to moderate symptoms and may not seek medical care, and therefore are not tested,” Palmer said. “Another possibility is that fewer people have come into contact with the virus due to following social distancing and other preventive measures.”

Palmer acknowledged there could also be cases in Hart County that have not been assigned to the county. There were 483 confirmed cases in the state where the patient’s county of residence is listed as unknown on Tuesday evening. He said these are test results that have incomplete data when submitted. As these are resolved, they are moved to the correct county of residence. Palmer assumes that if there are cases in the unknown category for Hart County, it would be a small number.

More than 88,000 people statewide have been tested for COVID-19 as of Tuesday. Numbers on how many Hart County residents have been tested are not available, Palmer said.

KEMP DRAWS FIRE

Kemp’s move to reopen many businesses drew pushback from elected officials and health experts on Tuesday. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said in an interview with CNN she is “perplexed that we have opened up in this way” and that it’s not “based on anything that’s logical.”

 In his address Monday, Kemp said emergency room visits for flu-like symptoms have declined and “documented COVID-19 cases have flattened and appear to be declining.”

Carlos del Rio, who chairs the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, said Georgia has yet to meet the federal criteria for seeing a steady decline over a 14-day period before businesses should begin opening again. Grace Bagwell Adams, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Georgia, said in all likelihood, Georgia will see a resurgence in the number of cases. She also said testing is not comprehensive enough to quickly track where the virus is spreading.

LOCAL AID

Hart County has not received any money yet from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as of Tuesday, Partain said, besides medicare and medicaid funds for EMS to supplement costs they don’t normally cover. 

Partain said that is still a work in progress and he thinks legislation moving forward this week will benefit Hart County more than anything else.

“If it passes, that looks like it’s going to be a considerable amount of money to take care of the tax loss,” Partain said.

DEADLINES EXTENDED

On March 31, Kemp suspended Conservation and Forest Land Use Protection Act deadlines by executive order until June 1 from the normal April 1 deadline for making an application.

The Hart County Board of Tax Assessors, in an effort to bring all deadlines together, has extended the normal April 1 deadline until June 1. This includes Homestead Exemption. Returns of property will be accepted until June 1. For further information call 706-376-3997. 

EARLY VOTING

The Hart County Board of Elections will host early voting for the primary election, which was moved to June 9 statewide, at the AgriScience Center on Bowman Highway starting on May 18. The center is large enough to allow for social distancing during early voting. 

The board also has a drop box outside its offices on Cade Street in Hartwell that it will be allowed to use for dropping off absentee ballots under a statewide rule change in response to the pandemic. 

HOPE IN HARTWELL

In Hartwell, Mayor Johnson also commended the Hart County Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Development Authority for being diligent in ensuring information about small business aid and other options was disseminated. Now, as things appear to be on a slow track back to some sense of normalcy, Johnson is hopeful Hartwell can regain the momentum it had going into the pandemic and be ready for a great summer. 

“We just hope it (the local economy) comes back and it comes back quickly,” Johnson said.

Dave Williams and Beau Evans of Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report. Capitol Beat News Service is made possible by the Georgia Press Education Fund.