ELLIJAY, Ga. – A state of emergency has been declared for Gilmer County by the Board of Commissioners, immediately followed by a “shelter-in-place” order and businesses shut down.
Through discussions and deliberations on Tuesday, March 24, the order for citizens to shelter-in-place will proceed from 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday morning, March 25, through 11:59 p.m. Tuesday night, April 7, due to the Coronavirus.
The most important details of this order come through the ordered shutdown of non-essential businesses. The order covers all “unincorporated parts of the county.” However, Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris did state in Tuesday’s meeting that he had spoken with the mayors of Ellijay and East Ellijay and felt that they were supportive of this action.
While citizens are ordered to take shelter at their own places of residence, the resolution clearly states, “When people need to leave their places of residence, whether to obtain or perform vital services, or to otherwise facilitate authorized activities necessary for continuity of social and commercial life, the should at all times reasonably possible comply with Social Distancing Requirements.”
Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson confirmed that deputies will be informing citizens about the order who are loitering in places unreasonably or blatantly disregarding the order. The order urges people at high risk of severe illness or people who are sick to not leave their residences except to seek medical care.
The other half of the shutdown comes through non-essential businesses. All businesses with a facility in the county, except essential businesses, are required to cease all activities at facilities located within the unincorporated areas of GIlmer except “Minimum Basic Operations.” The board listed in the order’s definitions, “Essential businesses means:
- Healthcare Operations and Essential Infrastructure;
- Grocery stores, certified farmers’ markets, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, food banks, convenience stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of canned food, dry goods, consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries and also sell other nongrocery products, and products necessary to maintining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences;
- Food cultivation, including farming, livestock, and fishing;
- Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals;
- Newspapers, televisions, radio, and other media services;
- Gas stations and auto-supply, auto-repair, and related facilities;
- Banks and related financial institutions;
- Hardware stores;
- Plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, Essential Activities, and Essential Businesses;
- Businesses providing mailing and shipping services, including post office boxes;
- Educational Institutions – including private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities – for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions, provided that social distancing of six-feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible;
- Laundromats, dry cleaners, and laundry service providers;
- Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for delivery or carry out. Farm wineries shall be allowed to sale packaged wine at curbside. Schools and other entities that typically provide free food services to students or members of the public may continue to do so under this Order on the condition that the food is provided to students or members of the public on a pick-up and take-away basis only. Schools and other entities that provide food services under this exemption shall not permit the food to be eaten at the site where it is provided, or at any other gathering site;
- Businesses that supply products need for people to work from home;
- Businesses or manufacturers that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate;
Businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods, or services directly to residences;
- Airlines, taxis, and other private transportation providers providing transportation services necessary for Essential Activities and other purposes expressly authorized in this Order;
- Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children;
- Residential Facilities including hotels, motels, shared rental units and similar facilities and shelters for seniors, adults, and children, except for short-term cabin rentals (provided that current guests may complete their stay);
- Professional services, such as legal, accounting services, real estate services, when necessary to assist in compliance with legally mandated activities;”
The board also added to the shutdown conditions for childcare facilities (stated in the order) and added all businesses not identified but are listed on the Department of Homeland Security’s website as Essential Critical Infrastructure workforce.
The Commissioners were asked by citizen Larry Lykins to understand “the magnitude” of what they were proposing in shutting down these small businesses. He said that some of those businesses are “just not going to come back from this.
Additionally, both Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson and Public Safety Director Keith Kucera offered their opinions saying that these hard decisions need to be made.
Despite the closure of businesses and activities, Paris did answer a question about the courthouse saying, “The courthouse cannot be closed.”
The commissioners worked over details including wineries and cabins, going back and forth on these issues and including advice from citizens and county agents. Ultimately, approving and signing the order as it stands. However, should conditions change, this order could be revisited and revised as needed.