Whitfield County closes restaurants to inside dining, limits number at social gatherings

Joe Vidalez hands a flat of Mango IPA (India pale ale) to Deanna Mathis at the Dalton Brewing Co. at their "to-go" station. The taproom closed on Wednesday and the business now is only selling take-out and curbside pickup due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

Editor's note: In an effort to keep the community updated on news about the new coronavirus (COVID-19), articles posted to our website under "Breaking News" are available to everyone for free, whether or not you're a subscriber. We encourage you to support us by subscribing to the Daily Citizen-News or by buying a copy of the newspaper at a local store or newspaper box.

Recently had a death in the family? Think hard about who you want at the funeral.

Got a wedding coming up? You may have to tell some of the people you've invited to stay home.

In an emergency meeting that lasted just under 11 minutes on Monday, the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve a resolution banning voluntary social gatherings of 10 or more people, including "religious services, attendance at theaters or entertainment venues, gyms and fitness centers, flea markets or yard sales, or funeral visitations or services."

The resolution also bars the public from bars, restaurants and similar establishments. Restaurants will be limited to carry-out, curbside pickup, delivery and drive-through operations. But restaurants with an alcoholic beverage license will be able to sell sealed containers of beer or wine, but not distilled spirits, for carry-out customers.

Cafeterias in hospitals or nursing homes are exempt from the resolution, but they must "exercise extreme caution" in the numbers of people inside at any one time.

The resolution took effect at 5 p.m. on Monday and will expire at midnight April 13 unless extended.

The resolution is aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

"It is with deep regret that we do this," said Commissioner Harold Brooker. "But it is necessary to save lives of our citizens."

As of noon Monday, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 772 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, up from 620 on Sunday. The agency reported 25 deaths, which was unchanged from Sunday.

"This is not something that we relish doing at all," said Board of Commissioners Chairman Lynn Laughter. “We just feel like to protect our citizens that we need to implement these precautions.”

The resolution noted that President Donald Trump declared a National Public Health Emergency on March 13 and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state Public Health Emergency on March 14.

"We have not asked anybody to do anything that hasn't been asked before from the president, the governor, the CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)," said Commissioner Roger Crossen.

Commissioner Greg Jones expressed hope that in three weeks conditions will have changed for the better and commissioners won't have to renew the resolution.

“We’re hoping by April 13 we can be past this,” said Laughter. “My personal feeling is that as more test kits become available, we’re going to see a spike in this and then hopefully it will level out and then start to decrease.”

Laughter had declared a state of emergency for Whitfield County on Wednesday of last week. The Dalton City Council and the Tunnel Hill City Council approved a joint resolution on Monday that declared a state of emergency in the cities of Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell and the Town of Cohutta. The Cohutta Town Council and the Varnell City Council had emergency meetings scheduled Monday night to vote on that resolution.

Cohutta Mayor Ron Shinnick said he expected the Town Council to approve the resolution.

"We are all really concerned about public safety," he said. "We hope this will help. We really need to come together to defeat this coronavirus."

Shinnick said he took part in a Georgia Municipal Association conference call Monday morning with Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University School of Medicine.

"He gave a really good presentation on what is going on with this disease," Shinnick said. "He said we are really at the critical point right now in Georgia and we need to act and act now. I appreciate the commissioners spearheading this resolution."

The county resolution follows well-publicized CDC recommendations which some people and industries had already begun to follow.

Dan Peeples, vice president of Julian Peeples Funeral Homes, said the Georgia Funeral Directors Association had already established guidelines limiting the number of mourners at funerals and visitations.

"Most funeral homes are already doing this for the public's safety," he said.

Dalton Brewing Co. voluntarily closed its taproom on Wednesday.

"We thought it was the responsible thing to do given the advice issued by the CDC and health experts across the country," the owners said in a statement. "Since then we have shifted to strictly to-go and curbside service by selling growlers, cans and merchandise. We have also taken advantage of downtown's open container laws and sell pints to-go from our front door. This is all consistent with the new guidelines set forth in the resolution and we will continue to serve our customers in this manner. Obviously, we have seen a dip in revenue, not just from retail sales, but also from a drop-off in sales through distribution. We expect it to get worse, and anticipate that this will last for at least a month, perhaps even longer."

The owners said they applaud the City of Dalton and the Board of Commissioners for acting to protect their citizens.

"Will we survive? Yes," the statement said. "And we look forward to raising a glass with all our customers when this crisis ends. Until then, we hope everyone washes their hands, enjoys this time with their families, and continues to support all the wonderful small businesses in this community."

The resolution does not say what the penalties for violating any of its provisions are.

There are "no specific monetary or confinement penalties at this time," said Laughter. But she added that "the resolution does have the force of law."

"It is designed to protect the public," she said. "We certainly hope the public will comply. Law enforcement and code enforcement will be authorized to enforce the resolution if necessary."

To watch Monday's meeting of the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners online, go to https://tinyurl.com/vn7z4gr.

React to this story:


Recommended for you