Most people here have been complying voluntarily with the COVID-19 social distancing orders when “reminded” by police, said Statesboro Police Department Chief Mike Broadhead.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar’s March 22 executive order, issued without formal objection from City Council, prohibits “public or private gatherings of more than ten (10) persons … anywhere in City of Statesboro.” The order goes on to refer to gatherings in any “confined indoor or confined outdoor space” and lists exceptions as well as examples.
Violations could be prosecuted as misdemeanors, with a fine of up to $1,000 or even jail time.
“What we’re really trying to do is work with people and help people to be reminded of the ban that’s in place on groups of 10 or more, and just ask people to disperse, and people have been very good about that when we pull up and talk to them, and just say, ‘Can you guys break it up? We’re supposed to have smaller groups,’” Broadhead said.
Most nod to say they “get it” and move along, he said. Police have “chased a couple of groups around,” who insisted on gathering for activities such as basketball, he added.
But Statesboro police had issued no citations in connection with the ban, Broadhead said around midday Monday.
RAC courts shut
The reporter who called the police chief had heard about gatherings at a pool in an apartment complex, but not about concerns over basketball.
Meanwhile, a photojournalist took pictures of the two basketball courts outside the Recreation Activity Center on the Georgia Southern University campus. The RAC courts had been wrapped in yellow caution tape, with paper signs attached announcing, “Courts are closed until further notice.” Additionally, the hoops had been removed from the backboards.
Sunday, someone had posted photos on the “Bulloch County Coronavirus Updates” group Facebook page of a group of more than 30 people gathered on the courts and bleachers.
The Statesboro Herald emailed Jennifer Wise, Georgia Southern University’s communications director, Monday asking for confirmation of whether GS Police Department officers asked the group at the basketball court to disperse.
“University Police is partnering with the City of Statesboro at the request of the Statesboro Police Department to ensure that large groups of people are not gathered on university property,” Wise replied. “This is following guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the CDC to avoid having people gather in large groups.”
Over the weekend, the newspaper received a tip that students who reside in off-campus apartments were concerned about young adults gathering at swimming pools that remained open.
Two GS graduate students who agreed to talk to the newspaper Monday morning are both residents of Hawthorne Apartments complex, owned by Hendley Properties. Hawthorne, including Hawthorne Court and Hawthorne II, has two pools and also tennis courts.
Alyssa Windsor, whose apartment is near one of the pools, said there had been an influx of “huge crowds” to the pool in the last two weeks, after other pools in Statesboro closed. She said she had seen at least 15 and as many as 30 people in and around the pool in the afternoons. Most were not Hawthorne residents, as shown by the effect on parking, Windsor said.
The apartment management had made attempts to limit the pool to 10 people and encourage social distancing, including putting up signs and issuing pool passes to tenants. But the pool remained open and crowded through the weekend, she noted. Her friend and fellow Hawthorne resident Jessica Forsee gave a similar description in a separate phone interview.
They also said that residents had called police to the pool more than once.
When the newspaper emailed Ginny Hendley Rushing, property manager for Hendley Properties, late Monday morning, she replied immediately that the company had then closed the pools in its apartment complexes.
“Hendley Properties loves our residents and our community,” she wrote in a further email. “We have shut the pools down at this time and pray for everyone to come together as one. Much love all.”
The company, which maintains four pools, including two in other complexes, has closed them all “until further notice,” as was also posted Monday morning on its Facebook page and company website.
Currently the mayor’s executive order lasts until noon next Tuesday, April 7, but it could be extended or replaced by a new order, a consideration slated for the regular City Council meeting at 9 a.m. that day.
The order also required bars, barbershops, salons, gyms, physical fitness centers and dance studios to close and limited restaurants to curbside, takeout, delivery and drive-thru service.
After defining a gathering as “ten (10) or more persons at the same time in a single room or other single confined or enclosed space” and listing examples, the order refers to “any other confined indoor or confined outdoor space” but then lists exceptions, making “residential buildings” as well as many businesses, exempt.
It refers to gatherings at indoor and outdoor stadiums and arenas as prohibited, and includes “indoor recreational facilities” among establishments having to close, but never mentions swimming pools as such.
“This order includes the prohibition of indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people regardless of private or public setting except for those specifically exempted from the ten person cap,” Layne Phillips, public information officer in the Statesboro city manager’s office, replied in an email Monday.
She underlined “regardless of private or public setting.”
“Mayor McCollar asks that citizens continue to do their part to ensure the safety of our community,” Phillips wrote.