In an effort to walk the line between protecting small businesses and keeping residents safe, Bulloch County Commissioners took a step further Tuesday in the fight against COVID-19 by approving a county-wide curfew.
Beginning today at noon Wednesday, Bulloch County residents will have a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., with people allowed to travel during those times only if there is a necessity such as work, medical needs or food.
Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar’s March 22 executive order – which prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people, closed certain businesses and restricted restaurants to curbside, drive-thru, takeout and delivery service – did not include a curfew. The city order remains effect until noon next Tuesday, when it could be extended or replaced.
Instead of modifying that order for now, Statesboro city officials plan to enforce the countywide curfew within the city limits.
The curfew extends to April 27, but that can change, said Bulloch County Commission Chairman Roy Thompson. He spoke to the Statesboro Herald after a special called meeting at noon Tuesday, during which commissioners approved the curfew.
Amid demands by some to issue a “shelter in place” order, commissioners were hesitant to close county businesses, which is what would happen under such an order. Only essential businesses, such as grocery and convenience stores, delivery, drive-thru or curbside service restaurants, agricultural supply stores, health care facilities, and utility providers would remain open under a “shelter in place” or “safe at home” order.
However, if residents continue to refuse to observe state, national and local guidelines intended to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the county “won’t hesitate to take the next step,” he said.
Commissioner Timmy Rushing said he understood as a small business owner, but was concerned about the virus spreading. "We don’t have (enough) hospital beds,” he said. Commissioner Curt Deal spoke in support of having Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch go ahead and draft a stay-at-home order.
During the brief meeting, which was livestreamed on Facebook by AllonGeorgia, Couch and commissioners discussed problems such as people not observing social distancing, especially in grocery or retail store checkout lines and at gathering places such as parks and river landings.
Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown attended the meeting but
was not seen on the video. Thompson said Brown was in the hallway, due to
social distancing (commissioners were also spaced six feet apart) and entered
the room when Thompson addressed him. “Your department is going to have to help
us get (residents’) attention,” he said to Brown. “We are just trying to look
after all the citizens in Bulloch County.”
Brown and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office will enforce state and local orders, including the curfew; shelter in place orders for people at risk for the virus, who have tested positive, or who show symptoms of COVID-19; the mandate that restaurants have no dine-in service (only curbside and pickup); no gatherings over 10 people; and social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart from others when in public), he said.
That goes for all municipalities in Bulloch, according to Thompson.
“The Statesboro Police Department will be working with the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office to ensure compliance with the countywide curfew mandate,” Layne Phillips, public information officer in the Statesboro city manager’s office, replied in an email Tuesday. “No further executive action is needed or expected from the mayor regarding the county ordinance.”
Brooklet, Portal and Register are also expected to follow the county ordinance, Thompson said. None of those cities or towns have issued any executive orders.
During the meeting, Thompson shared several photos of gatherings at parks, basketball courts and other spots where dozens were clustered in close-knit crowds. He said the photos were proof that either people are unaware of the dangers of the coronavirus and the measures ordered to help contain it; or they are “just ignoring it.”
Efforts are needed to enforce and inform, he told the Herald. “Regardless of any policy, “it will take people helping us. People are not using common sense and not following directions.”
reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414. Herald reporter Al
Hackle contributed to this article.