After voting unanimously Monday to ask Athens residents to stay at home as much as possible, the Athens-Clarke County Commission will vote tonight on making that request mandatory—with certain exceptions.
First things first: This is not a reason to panic. You'll still be able to do most everything you need to do, such as go to work (if your employer is open), get food, groceries, medicine and other supplies, go to the doctor, walk your dog, take a jog or care for vulnerable friends and relatives.
Hospitals, health clinics, doctor's and dentist's offices, pharmacies, veterinarians and other health care-related facilities can remain open. So can grocery stories, convenience stores, produce stands, farmers markets, banks, hardware stores, auto supply and repair shops, gas stations, social services, shelters, electricians, plumbers, exterminators, delivery services, laundromats, dry cleaners, child care facilities, lawyers, real estate agents, accountants and media outlets. Restaurants can continue to serve food for takeout and delivery.
When leaving the house, residents are required to practice social distancing, which means staying at least six feet away from non-household members, covering coughs and sneezes with your elbow, washing your hands frequently with soap and hot water for 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer and frequently cleaning high-touch surfaces.
Here's an explanation of what "shelter in place" means from CNN. It is not a total lockdown, like in Italy.
ACC police will enforce the order "through engagement and information delivery." The homeless are exempt, although they are encouraged to seek shelter.
In addition, ACC is waiving all water fees for the month of April, as well as all business and alcohol license taxes for the upcoming fiscal year.
The county will also be setting up temporary public hand-washing stations.
If approved, the ordinance will be in effect through Apr. 7.
Mark Ebell, the director of epidemiology and biostatistics at UGA, provided this graph from Imperial College in London showing that the need for critical care beds will spike drastically in the coming weeks, far outstripping hospitals' capacities, as COVID-19 spreads unless more drastic measures are taken. According to Ebell:
The only way to get the need for ICU beds below capacity is a combination of general (i.e. everyone) social distancing, case isolation and school closures. This truly flattens the curve. As the bottom-most graph shows, that is the only way to get the number of people needing an ICU bed (green line) below the number of beds available (red line). There is still the likelihood of a second wave of cases next winter, but by then we can build more respirators, be getting closer to a vaccine and hopefully have a better idea of how to treat the infection.
Bottom line: Mandatory general social distancing is needed. We have already seen that voluntary measures are ignored, especially by younger members of the community, which puts the older and more vulnerable members at great risk. Overall, the best estimate [is] that this virus will kill one in 100 infected, but this rate is 5% in those 70–79 and 10% in those 80 and older.
The commission will vote on the shelter-in-place policy at a 6 p.m. called meeting. Citizens are discouraged from attending but can provide online comments here.