Speaking first to City Council and then in a live-streamed announcement to Statesboro residents and businesses, Mayor Jonathan McCollar noted that the city cannot exceed the restrictions in Gov. Brian Kemp's COVID-19 reopening decision.
But McCollar urged citizens to continue to observe social distancing and other measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. He noted that the statewide orders place conditions on businesses that are being allowed to re-open, indicated that the city is preparing to enforce those rules, and said business owners must make their own decisions.
"Right now the thought process is that we've just got to get our local people, for our city employees, in a position to execute what the governor has already passed down. ...," McCollar told the council during a 4 p.m. Tuesday work session. "And I think the next thing is that we've got to keep putting the word out that we're not out of the woods yet on this thing, the numbers are increasingly going up."
Kemp announced Monday that barbershops, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, fitness centers and massage therapists will be allowed to reopen for "baseline operations" Friday. Then restaurants may re-open to dine-in customers next Monday, April 27, subject to conditions that were not immediately announced. Private social clubs and theaters are also on the list for Monday reopening.
With 5:30 p.m. regular council meeting cancelled for lack of action items and his 6 p.m. announcement postponed to 6:15, McCollar made his more poignant remarks on the COVID-19 reopening during the work session, and council members also made related comments.
"We have to let our populous know that it's their responsibility to do everything they can to keep their families safe," the mayor continued. "We want our business community to know, you know just because you have the option to open up on Friday or on Monday, if you are not prepared to keep your customers safe, if you're not prepared to ensure your employees are safe, use discernible judgment, and make sure you open your doors when it is safe to do so."
He noted that city officials were hearing questions about what they could do locally to further protect people here.
"The answer to that is we can only enforce what the governor has already passed," McCollar said. "So we're going to do that to the best of our ability, to make sure that we're fighting every day to save the lives of the people of our community."
In some matters, such as the laws governing alcoholic beverage sales that the council discussed as part of Tuesday's work session, city ordinances can be stricter than state laws and regulations. But the orders Kemp has issued under emergency powers as governor supercede all local emergency restrictions.
'COVID ... very real'
"On a personal note, in the past week I've known two people that's lost their life to COVID-19 and if there's nothing I can say to the city employees, to the citizens of Statesboro, COVID-19 is very real, there is no political agenda behind it, there is no underlying stance that supercedes life, and at the end of the day, our goal is to save as many people as possible," McCollar continued.
Asked after the meeting, he said that one of the people he knew who died was a local resident, the more recent in Bulloch County's tally, as of Tuesday, of two lives lost to COVID-19. The other was someone he knew from college but who lived elsewhere.
McCollar asked if council members had any comments.
"I just want to echo what you just said, mayor," said District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr. "I'm disappointed that some fears about business seem to be making decisions at higher levels than here, if those fears seem to be outweighing the factual information, of the numbers of the pandemic, because people are still sick.
"We have not seen the decrease that we're looking for, so I applaud everybody who's doing everything they can to use social distancing, to stay as safe as you can, to protect your employees," she said. "So I applaud folks doing that and I want to tell you that what is allowed and can be done doesn't have to be done."
Barr added that she would also "send all good wishes to those folks who feel like they have to go back to work and applaud all the efforts to try to keep them as safe as they can be."
Mack to salons
District 3 Coucilwoman Venus Mack, a hair stylist and licensed cosmetologist, owns and operates the Glam Bar Salon.
"I know that all of us who are hair stylists, nail techs, barbers, we are so excited because we haven't been making any money, but I want to remind you guys to do all that you can," Mack said. "If you have to take temperatures, if you have to say nobody can come in, only appointments, one person at a time, whatever you have to do, do what you need to do because this virus is still going strong and we still need to protect ourselves and our families.
"Practice social distancing and wash your hands," she concluded.
McCollar expressed several of the same thoughts in his 6:15 p.m. Tuesday live-streamed announcement, which can be viewed on "The City of Statesboro" Facebook page.
Kemp's announcement and, when made available, guidelines on reopening such as those issued by the state Board of Cosmetology and Barbers can be found at https://gov.georgia.gov.
City Attorney Cain Smith said the mayor would issue either one or two executive orders matching the governor's orders as they become available.