The county commissioners held their second called meeting of the week on Friday, March 27, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. In this blog post, I break down the new ordinance so that residents better understand its impacts.
Commissioners passed a resolution on Tuesday, March 24. Resolutions do not provide any enforcement methods, so commissioners converted the resolution into an ordinance on Friday and modified its language. The vote was 4-0 with two commissioners unavailable (Clemmons and Holmes).
Did the county pass a shelter-in-place ordinance and why not?
No, Henry County did not pass a shelter-in-place ordinance. County attorney Patrick Jaugstetter prepared a draft ordinance for commissioners to consider, but they instead updated what they had passed earlier in the week.
County chair June Wood and county manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews have both expressed the need to work with the cities before passing a drastic measure like shelter-in-place. Actions taken by Henry County only affect unincorporated residents so a true countywide SIP also requires the approval of all four cities.
Although Stockbridge has adopted the strongest measures in response to COVID-19—shutting down all non-essential businesses inside city limits—the other cities have taken limited action. To my knowledge, Hampton has not yet passed an emergency declaration.
What’s a non-essential vs essential business?
A common phrase heard in recent weeks has been to describe businesses as either essential or non-essential. The county’s ordinance now defines essential businesses.
Some examples of essential businesses include grocery stores, healthcare providers, gas stations and auto repair, banks, tradesmen (plumbers, electricians, etc), laundromats and dry cleaners, home-based care, professional services, and industrial manufacturing.
All businesses that remain open during this time, either deemed essential or non-essential, shall enact procedures and policies to ensure individuals maintain appropriate physical distancing.
What businesses are closed?
The county’s ordinance requires the closure of all indoor recreation, fitness and entertainment facilities within unincorporated Henry County. The ordinance also maintains the closure of restaurant dining rooms, and requires they provide only delivery, take-out or drive through services. Most restaurants had already implemented these measures prior to the county requiring them to do so.
The county’s new ordinance actually lessened its restrictions on some businesses compared to earlier in the week. The specific businesses in question are non-essential businesses that cannot maintain six feet of physical space between individuals in their operation, most commonly referenced to include hair and nail salons.
The board’s Tuesday resolution stated “all non-essential businesses which are unable to operate without…maintain[ing] physical distancing of at least 6 feet should close.” Now, the county’s ordinance has substituted should close for “shall not allow more than ten (10) people into such establishment at any time.”
What are the county’s enforcement options?
By adopting an ordinance, the board of commissioners has now empowered county police officers and code enforcement officers to cite businesses or individuals that violate the directives. Ordinance violations are presented in magistrate court and punishable by a fine not exceeding five-hundred dollars ($500.00) or by imprisonment not exceeding sixty (60) days, or by both.
The new enforcement powers provide our officers with an additional tool, if needed, in addressing concerns and complaints related to the pandemic. The county’s primary method to support compliance remains an educational approach asking residents to stay home and limit their trips into the general public.
How long does the ordinance last?
The ordinance is in effect until 11:59 pm on April 7, or until earlier modified, revoked, rescinded or extended.
Henry County residents may visit https://www.co.henry.ga.us/Residents/COVID-19 for the most recent information regarding the county government, closures and cancellations, and health resources during the Coronavirus pandemic. The ordinance in its entirety is available to view on the county website.