By Joe Johnson
Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz has called a special meeting of the county commission for Thursday evening to consider updating the local COVID-19 emergency order and amend face mask requirement to include tight public confines and queues.
Commissioners will also be considering limiting alcohol pouring to 10 p.m., though restaurants would be allowed to continue serving food later.
"We are all in a tough time, and there are no perfect answers to the challenges of this pandemic, but a few things are clear as they pertain to bars," Girtz said.
"Many of our emergency room and critical care beds are consumed with bar-related and drinking-related challenges during late-night hours, while our hospitals are at an all-time-low for critical care bed capacity, and we need to preserve that capacity to the greatest degree possible.
As of Tuesday afternoon there were 1,507 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Athens-Clarke County, with 15 deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
According to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, there was only one available critical care bed out of a total of 70 beds in the Region E Healthcare Coalition, which includes Athens-Clarke, Oconee, Jackson, Madison, Oglethorpe and seven other counties.
"Bars are places that are inherently less safe during this pandemic, given the close-quarters congregating in them, and the tendency of people in them to yell or speak loudly, which is why guidance from the National Coronavirus Task Force on down recommends bar closures or limitations," Girtz said.
The mayor added that college students tend to frequent bars from 10 p.m. on, so limiting times to prior to 9 p.m. will minimize this risk.
"People are much less conscious of risk when they are young and drunk," Girtz said, notig that seated outdoor spaces are safer, "so we are facilitating that through the combination of 'parklets,' or seating areas where there are now public parking places, and allowing drink delivery to nearby seating locations that may require movement down public sidewalks."
The mayor further said, "While an earlier last call will have a healthcare benefit, it is not the altogether bar closing that many communities, Chapel Hill, for example, are now operating under."
Additionally, “We will also be expanding employee support next week to include home rental and additional food assistance, and continue to lobby our Congressional representatives for additional aid,“ Girtz said.