Updated: Apr 2, 2020
By Joe Johnson
Videos taken Saturday night at a popular eastside hangout appear to show that many Athens residents are not taking seriously a mandatory self-quarantine and social-distancing ordinance that was unanimously adopted two days earlier by the Athens-Clarke County Board of Commissioners in an attempt to locally limit the impact of the highly contageous and dangerous coronavirus disease.
The ordinance was enacted days after the mayor and commission declared that Athens-Clarke County was in a state of emergency because of the rapidly-spreading disease.
The intent of the “shelter in place" mandate is to reduce person-to-person contacts during the current novel coronavirus virus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
But videos taken Saturday night at "The Block," an area along Nellie B Avenue where there is a small cluster of stores and is a popular gathering place for people in the community, clearly shows that people are not taking the public health emergency seriousl.
In the video, a large group of people are seen interacting with each other at a distance much closer than the recommended 6-foot social-distancing barrier between residents.
The group also far exceeded the restriction on gatherings of more than 10 people.
As of Sunday evening, Georgia had recorded 620 cases of COVID-19 in 56 counties, and 25 deaths caused by the virus, according to the DPH. There have been 10 confirmed cases in Athens, two in Oconee County and one in Barrow County..
Athens-Clarke County will not be enforcing the new restriction by issuing fines or arresting violators but instead will enforce it with “engagement” and guidance, according to the ordinance.
After viewing the videos of the groups socializing that took place on The Block, District 7 Commissioner was compelled to issue the following statement:
"I appreciate that this video has been shared. It raises the alarm on the need for more support for East Athens. We hear you loud and clear. We are now taking swifter steps to address that need. This work is not easy: please help us by sharing your needs (as specific as possible), and we will act. My office phone is (706) 850-0878. This unprecedented pandemic calls on all of us to act responsibly. The government cannot do enough without the people's support and honest communication. Please help by telling everyone the dangers of this pandemic. The Coronavirus can travel 6 feet through the air to infect another person. That's why the Athens government enacted mandatory social distancing that requires all individuals to maintain six meet of space between them and others at all times and in all places. The coronavirus is a highly contagious, potentially deadly disease that affects all ages. Athens has 46 ICU beds while serving a total area popultation of 627,310. We need everyone's help to prevent an outbreak that would overwhelm our healthcare system. We are learning more every moment on the best way to serve, so please reach out to us with questions, concerns, or complaints. We seek greater understanding. Thank you sincerely."
The current coronavirus restriction are to remain in place at least until 5 a.m. April 7, the date of the next mayor and commission meeting when the policy will be revisited.