Pickens County declared a state of emergency in an emergency called meeting on Tuesday. This allows the Pickens County Office of Emergency Management to activate the emergency operations plan, specifically, Chapter 22, Civil Emergencies, located in the Pickens County Code of Ordinances to be put into place.
“What this document will do,” Rob Jones, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said, “is to remind people of the condition we are in.”
Four people in Pickens County have contracted COVID-19, according the Georgia Department of Health. So far, 1097 people in Georgia have been infected and 38 have died while 361 are hospitalized.
We are the only hospital for several counties,” said Jones. “We have to do something to not get overrun.”
What it means
The declaration states that “all individuals currently living within unincorporated boundaries of Pickens County, Georgia (the “County”) shall shelter at their place of residence.”
“All persons may leave their residences only for Essential Activities, Essential Governmental Functions, or to operate Essential Businesses.” These functions are described in section 10 of the document and states these are activities or tasks necessary for health and safety.
According to a press release, the “shelter in place” directive will limit personal contact. The Centers for Disease Control and the Georgia Department of Health encourage people to shelter in place and to practice “social distancing”– remaining six-feet apart for others.
All businesses, except Essential Businesses are required to stop except “Minimum Basic Operations.” The declaration clarified this businesses may continue to operate if their employees and contractors work at home.
What are Essential businesses
Essential businesses include:
Healthcare, including pharmacies, drug stores.
Grocery stores, certified farmers markets, produce and farm stands, food banks, convenient stores, any store selling canned, dry or fresh foods.
Food cultivation including farming, livestock and fishing.
Businesses that provide food, shelter, and social services and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or needy individuals.
Newspapers, television, radio and other media services.
Auto sales, gas stations, auto-supply, auto-repair and other related services.
Banks and related financial institutions.
Construction and maintenance service providers.
Mailing and shipping services.
Educational institutions for distance learning.
Laundromats, dry cleaners and other laundry services.
Restaurants and other that prepare and serve food, restricted to carry-out.
Businesses that supply products for those working at home.
Businesses and manufacturers that supply other essential business with the suport supplies neccessary to operate.
Services that ship goods directly to residences.
Airlines, taxis, car rentals and private transportation providers.
Home-based care for seniors, adults, or children.
Retail liquor, beer, and wine stores.
Food manufacturers and distribution centers.
“We’re wanting to keep as many businesses open as possible,” said Jones.
Jones said the decision to declare an emergency comes after meetings with health officials. He said Piedmont Mountainside Hospital reached out to several civic leaders in phone meetings, including administration, public health, and the sheriff’s department to update each other’s respective offices.
“It’s worked out very well,” said Jones of the system.
While Jones doesn’t think it will be necessary to involve law enforcement–he is confident the residents of Pickens County will continue to do their best to adhere to the suggestions, the measure does give the county the power to step in.
“I don’t think it will come to that. The public is already doing the best they can in this particular time of history,” he said. “Maybe this will be a helpful- little wake up call.”
Observations from the campaign trial
One candidate doesn’t agree with the move, saying it’s just reiterating with Governor Brian Kemp said earlier.
“I think it came across as a fear tactic,” said David Shouse, who is running against Jones in November’s election. “It caused a lot of confusion and anxiety with the citizens. I would have handled it in an entirely different way.”
For instance, Shouse said he wouldn’t have “waited weeks into this pandemic to address my community.”
Kris Stancil, another candidate for Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said that while he may not agree with everything that has or has not been done “a time of crisis is not the time to jump in and criticize.”
Stancil also said he isn’t privy to the information current commissioners have when they make decisions but his focus is helping people, so if the declaration helps, then he supports it.
“The more we can all stand united in difficult times, laying opinions and politics aside, the more we can accomplish in my number one objective, taking care of the people.”
Jones said the move was necessary. “We’ll do what we can to keep our lifestyle sustainable, but we have to start right.”
“As precarious as this time is, we are trying to keep people safe,” Jones said. “Common sense must prevail. Don’t panic.”
He said departments such as roads and building inspectors are still operational, but have separated into teams so if one team gets sick, they will have someone available for necessary county work.
“All the government entities are running, there is just no public access to the building,” he said.