ATLANTA — Local officials are expressing concern that a statewide stay-at-home order from Georgia's governor that took effect Friday evening will actually loosen some restrictions that cities and counties had put in place, including rolling back park and beach closures.
Gov. Brian Kemp had earlier refused to implement a statewide stay-at-home order and instead left the decision to local officials. That led to a patchwork of local orders and restrictions that popped up from counties and cities across the state.
But Kemp's stay-at-home order, signed Thursday, now supersedes those local orders. That includes reopening many parks and beaches that local governments had ordered closed after seeing gatherings of people not obeying distancing requirements.
Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions said that she was happy to see Kemp order people to stay at home statewide, but said she "feels somewhat betrayed" that the order overturns local restrictions, thereby reopening Tybee Island's beach.
"It's scary really to think that we'd done so much to put things in place that would help combat this, and now it's all for naught," Sessions said in an interview Friday afternoon.
Sessions said that Tybee's beach entrances remain boarded up and that the city didn't have the resources to enforce social distancing requirements on the beach. She said local officials are still trying to work with the governor's office on a resolution.
Captain Chris Hodge of the Law Enforcement Division of the state's Department of Natural Resources said that several beaches along Georgia's coast previously closed by local order will reopen. Hodge said that, in addition to Tybee Island, beaches on Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island will reopen.
Athens-Clarke Commissioner Russell Edwards, who has been an outspoken critic of Kemp's handling of the crisis, said that the county's lawyer is still examining the order, but he's worried that Kemp may override stricter local rules.
"I have concerns that the state may end up weakening local protections that have been put in place," Edwards told The Associated Press Friday. "I'm skeptical because the governor for weeks and weeks resisted calls to issue a shelter-at-home order. Now's not the time to weaken measures."
Edwards said the county has no plans to reopen parks and is awaiting more guidance from the governor.
Cobb County spokesman Ross Cavitt said the county doesn't plan to reopen its parks.
"We read the order and did not see any mandate to reopen parks," Cavitt wrote in an email. "Ours will remain closed because their closure came through county manager's authority and not through our declaration of emergency."
The Georgia Municipal Association had recommended that the state's 500-plus cities implement nighttime curfews. Many cities and counties have done so. Kemp spokesman Cody Hall said the order also nullifies those curfews.
Kemp's order says people must stay home unless they are providing or receiving food, household supplies, medical supplies or services, sanitation, safety services or essential home maintenance. It also says people can exercise outside as long as they stay 6 feet apart. It closes all dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and other entertainment venues.
More than 1,200 people have been hospitalized and at least 198 have died because of the virus, according to the latest data Friday from the Georgia Department of Public Health. The state reported nearly 6,000 confirmed cases, though testing has been limited. The state also counted 47 long-term care facilities with outbreaks.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness, including pneumonia and death. Some hospitals across the country are struggling to keep up with a large influx of patients from the virus.
Dougherty County in southwest Georgia has been particularly hard hit by the virus. The county has a population of less than 90,000 people but has seen 30 deaths, the most of any county in the state. Atlanta's Fulton County, home to over a million people, has had 26 deaths.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.