Felipe Esquivel Reed
The biggest story not just locally but globally remains coronavirus and probably will for some time. As Flagpole went to press, Georgia had 4,117 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 885 people hospitalized and 125 dead. Fifty-one of those cases were in Clarke County, killing five people.
It’s a fast-moving story, so check flagpole.com for regular updates. Here’s a rundown of what happened last week.
Schools Still Closed: Gov. Brian Kemp has ordered all public K-12 schools in Georgia to remain closed through Friday, Apr. 24.
"I am deeply grateful to State School Superintendent Richard Woods, the Georgia Department of Education, superintendents, and parents for keeping us informed and helping us make the right decision for our students," Kemp said in a news release Mar. 26. "Throughout this process, we will continue to seek the advice of public health officials, school leaders, and families to ensure the health and safety of the educational community. As we approach Apr. 24, 2020, we ask for continued patience and flexibility since circumstances may change, but we encourage families to stay strong and follow the guidance of federal, state and local leaders in the weeks ahead."
Kemp had previously ordered schools closed through the end of March, but in light of Athens-Clarke County's shelter-in-place ordinance, the Clarke County School District had already opted to extend closures through Apr. 7. The University of Georgia and other public colleges and universities have already decided to shift to online classes and close campus for the remainder of the spring semester.
CCSD officials are holding off on announcing a return date, according to Communications Manager Beth Moore. In the meantime, SAT and ACT testing dates have been postponed, Advanced Placement tests will move online, and Milestones tests have been canceled. The mid-spring break will take place as planned Apr. 10–13, with no assignments on those dates.
The district is also changing the way it’s distributing breakfast and lunch to thousands of students. Starting Thursday, Apr. 2, the pickup point at Oglethorpe Avenue will move to Chase Street, and new hours of 10 a.m. to noon will take effect. The district will also only provide meals twice a week—three day’s worth of meals on Mondays and two on Thursdays. That applies both to the Chase and Hilsman Middle School pickup points and delivery buses.
Shelter in Place Challenged: Athens gun store Clyde Armory filed a lawsuit Mar. 24 in Clarke County Superior Court seeking to overturn Athens-Clarke County's recently passed shelter-in-place ordinance.
The ordinance closes many businesses through Apr. 7 and orders residents to stay in their homes whenever possible, with exceptions like going to work, grocery shopping, outdoor recreation and seeking medical attention.
While gun stores are not specifically listed among the "essential businesses" that are allowed to stay open in the ordinance commissioners approved, county officials have said gun stores are exempt because closing them would violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms. But the lawsuit, filed by local attorneys Mo Wiltshire and Kevin Epps on behalf of Clyde Armory, says that such statements don't carry the force of law.
The lawsuit also alleges that the power to quarantine or isolate individuals lies with the governor and the state Department of Public Health, not local governments. Gov. Brian Kemp, however, has left it to local governments to enact stricter measures than the partial shelter-in-place policy he put into place, which mainly applies to bars, nightclubs and vulnerable individuals.
And, the lawsuit says, there is no due process for appealing a business's inclusion among non-essential businesses.
The lawsuit names the ACC government, ACC Manager Blaine Williams and ACC Attorney Judd Drake, who wrote the ordinance, as defendants.
Clyde Armory is owned by Andrew Clyde, who's running as a Republican for the 9th Congressional District seat that Rep. Doug Collins is leaving to run for U.S. Senate.
Bars Can Sell Beer to Go: Athens bars and restaurants can now sell unopened bottles and cans of beer and wine to go during the coronavirus emergency, after Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams signed an order Mar. 27 suspending certain provisions of the local alcoholic beverage ordinance.
The order is intended to help struggling bars and restaurants while locals are being told to shelter in place. The ACC Commission essentially shut down bars and restaurant dining rooms when it limited public gatherings to less than 10 people on Mar. 16, then officially closed them to the public on Mar. 19, although restaurants can still do take-out and delivery.
Ordinarily, businesses with a license to serve alcohol on the premises can't sell it for consumption off premises, and vice versa. Several commissioners have asked if that provision could be suspended. County officials initially told them no, it's state law, but after further research, ACC Attorney Judd Drake told Williams that other Georgia cities are doing it, Commissioner Jerry NeSmith said.
The commission was scheduled to vote to ratify the order at a meeting Tuesday, Mar. 31, according to Commissioner Tim Denson. It would last through Apr. 7, or longer if the commission extends the local state of emergency, as appears likely.
Several local breweries—which fall under a different category of alcohol license—are already doing curbside pickup, as are a number of package stores. Akademia, Creature Comforts and Terrapin are among the breweries offering curbside pickup. Southern Brewing Co. has opted not to sell beer to go at its taproom "to protect the health and safety of our employees and our amazing Athens community."