Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz takes notes at a Mayor and Commission meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019. (Photo/Jason Born)

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously passed an ordinance during a special called session Thursday declaring a second local state of emergency due to COVID-19.

The ordinance requires residents to stay in their homes except on essential business, although it will not be legally enforced against people. Businesses could suffer fines or be closed if they violate the ordinance.

The ordinance, which took effect March 20, prohibits all gatherings outside of a household and any non-essential travel. Essential travel includes travel to care for the elderly, minors or other vulnerable individuals, travel from outside ACC to return to a place of residence and travel required by law enforcement or court order.

The ordinance allows individuals to travel to purchase medical supplies, food or products to “maintain their safety,” or to deliver these items to others. The ordinance also restricts non-essential businesses to “minimum basic operations” needed to keep the business running.

Mayor Kelly Girtz said police would not be enforcing the ordinance with citations or arrests against individuals, but businesses who fail to comply could be charged with an ordinance violation and could be fined or closed.

The ordinance authorizes the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and others deemed necessary by ACC Manager Blaine Williams to support compliance through information delivery and education of individuals regarding COVID-19, Girtz said at the meeting.

“Our support of … individual members of the public is to provide information and guidance,” Girtz said regarding the ordinance’s enforcement. “Not arrest, not citation, not jailing. Nothing of the like.”

The ordinance also directs Williams to engage with service providers to ensure there is “ample capacity” to shelter all homeless people in the county.

The Commission added language to the ordinance suggested by District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson ordering Williams to allocate up to $3 million in funds to provide assistance to those affected by the pandemic. The funds will come out of reserves for a prosperity package intended to assist the poor.

The funds will be used to provide assistance to workers of local businesses whose incomes are adversely impacted, to support small business continuity and to aid nonprofit organizations providing essential services to those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ordinance will be in effect until 11:59 p.m. on April 7. The Mayor and Commission can extend it if needed, or rescind, amend or supersede it.

The Mayor and Commission also viewed a presentation detailing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Athens. The presentation, narrated by University of Georgia College of Public Health faculty member Grace Bagwell Adams, noted that ACC’s healthcare system is in a critical regional labor shortage.

Adams said in the presentation over 60% of ACC’s population is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, including the homeless, elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

District 3 Commissioner Melissa Link, District 4 Commissioner Allison Wright, District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards and District 8 Commissioner Andy Herod attended the meeting through video chat.

Edwards said he was ordered to shelter after his friend, a doctor in ACC, tested positive for COVID-19. He said his isolation ends Friday, at which point it will be 14 days since he had exposure to someone with the virus.

The Mayor and Commission also unanimously approved a project to reconstruct and realign a taxiway at the Athens-Ben Epps Airport using funds from the 2018 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The project will allow more planes to be parked at the airport, District 6 Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Grace Bagwell Adams. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has been fixed. 

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