At 11 Wednesday night, barber shops, hair and nail salons, massage and tattoo parlors, and similar businesses in Dalton and Whitfield County could have to close their doors for a month or more.
The Dalton City Council and the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners are slated to meet separately on Wednesday at noon in called meetings to vote on a joint resolution extending previous restrictions on social conduct aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and adding a number of new restrictions, including the "closing of businesses that require close personal contact for the performance of the service delivered ..." The Varnell mayor and council are to meet at 7 p.m. to consider the resolution.
"The impetus for this is President Donald Trump's move on Sunday to extend social distancing to April 30," said Board of Commissioners Chairman Lynn Laughter.
On March 23, county commissioners as well as the councils of Dalton, Cohutta, Tunnel Hill and Varnell approved resolutions banning voluntary social gatherings of 10 or more people, including at private social functions; religious worship meetings or services; attendance at theaters, gyms or fitness centers; flea markets or yard sales; or funeral visitations or services, among other activities.
Those resolutions also bar the public from bars, restaurants and similar establishments. Restaurants are limited to carry-out, curbside pickup, delivery and drive-through operations. Restaurants with an alcoholic beverage license are able to sell sealed containers of beer or wine, but not distilled spirits, for carry-out customers. Those resolutions would have expired on April 13.
The joint resolution that Dalton and Whitfield County officials will vote on on Wednesday, which the other councils are also expected to vote on, would extend those restrictions to April 30, in keeping with President Trump's new guidelines.
In addition, the new joint resolution could, according to a draft:
• "Direct that all people in public spaces should maintain a distance of at least six feet between themselves and others."
• "Require all people in groups considered 'at risk' per CDC (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines including, but not limited to, current cancer patients, type-1 diabetes patients, current COPD patients, those with chronic coronary artery disease to shelter in place and refrain from being in public places."
• "Order the closing of businesses that require close personal contact for the performance of the service delivered including, but not limited to, barber shops, hair salons, day spas, nail salons, massage parlors, tanning salons and tattoo/body art studios during the time the order is in effect."
• "Close all children’s playgrounds, whether located at parks, schoolyards, apartment complexes, etc."
• "Order all retail establishments except for grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies to limit the number of customers present within the business to one customer (1) per one thousand (1,000) feet of floor space of the business. All retail businesses to include grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies will take reasonable steps to ensure customers remain six feet away from each other at all times including while waiting to enter, check out and exit."
• "Order that all businesses that remain open to the public will restrict in-person contact between public and employees and shall ensure all persons remain not less than six feet apart."
• "Order that all businesses that remain open but not to the public such as manufacturing, wholesale and warehouses shall ensure that all employees remain no less than six feet away from each other at all times."
• "Order all businesses and employers to take necessary steps to ensure none of their personnel are exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 and to send personnel home if symptoms manifest."
• "Encourage all businesses and employers, to the maximum extent possible, to provide employees with the means and equipment to perform essential job responsibilities remotely."
• "Provide for violations by individuals or covered businesses of any of the orders to be considered ordinance violations of the subject jurisdiction and provide for penalties up to and including a fine of $1,000 and/or incarceration of up to sixty (60) days."
The previous resolutions did not contain penalties.
If adopted, the new resolution will take effect at 11 tonight and end at midnight on April 30 "unless amended, terminated or extended by further action by the governments."
"It has been about a week and a half (since the first resolutions), and some people are not necessarily complying with the things that were put in place then," said Laughter.
And why are new restrictions being considered?
"We looked around at what other places have been doing and talked to public health officials and decided that these things needed to be done," said Dalton Mayor David Pennington.
Rome and Floyd County last week closed "nonessential" businesses, including barber shops, hair salons, tattoo shops, tanning salons and nail salons.
Chattooga County Sole Commissioner Jason Winters on Monday ordered such businesses closed unless they could assure that no more than 10 people would be in the business and that all people in the business could maintain a minimum distance of six feet.
Laughter said she does not know of any jurisdictions that have closed grocery stores.
What sort of "reasonable steps" do officials expect grocery stores and pharmacies to take to make sure that customers maintain a distance of six feet apart?
Pennington said he would be looking for things such as posting signs reminding people to maintain that distance and employees warning people when they get too tightly bunched up together.
The resolution closes playgrounds, which the Dalton City Council had already voted to do, because of both fears of children gathering together and of the virus being left on the equipment. But many city and county parks will remain open.
"We understand that people will need to get out of their homes," said Laughter. "We want them to get out and exercise and enjoy the sun when it is out. We just want them to maintain social distance when they do."
Pennington said that if law enforcement or parks and recreation officials are driving by and notice people in parks not abiding by social distance rules they will warn them to separate.
Both Laughter and Pennington said they know the new restrictions could have a negative impact on personal care businesses if they are approved.
"I fear some of these businesses won't survive this," Pennington said.
But they said the moves are necessary to protect public safety.
"We think this is going to get worse before it will get better," Laughter said. "We are dealing with an unprecedented event. This is going to have an impact on small businesses, but both the state and federal governments are trying to ease that impact through (expanded) unemployment benefits and loans to small businesses. But, yes, this is going to hurt."
The Dalton City Council has called a special meeting for Wednesday to consider adopting a new joint resolution with the other municipal and county governments to address the new coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in the region. The meeting will be at noon and livestreaming of the meeting will be available on the city's Facebook page at facebook.com/CityOfDalton.
The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners will hold its special called meeting Wednesday at noon that can be livestreamed at https://livestream.com/accounts/25637515/events/7960637. The meeting will also be accessible from the county’s website (www.whitfieldcountyga.com) by clicking on the Commission Meeting Video link.
The mayor and council of Varnell have a special called meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. to consider the joint resolution.
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