COVINGTON — The Covington City Council unanimously approved a resolution enacting a voluntary curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. from March 20 to April 7, requesting voluntary shelter in place, and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people during the local state of emergency related to COVID-19.
The resolution, approved during a called emergency teleconference council meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, also allows restaurants selling beer or wine for on-premise consumption to sell it for take out, and delays the due date for payment of alcohol excise taxes for restaurants until June 30.
On March 14 Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health state of emergency for Georgia, and on March 16, the Covington council approved its own local state of public health emergency.
At a news conference in Atlanta earlier Thursday, Kemp said he does not plan currently to impose any statewide mandatory curfews, business closures or forced quarantines and will leave it up to local officials whether to shut down businesses or require people to stay home.
The confirmed number of COVID-19 cases in Newton stood at four at midday Friday; one case had been confirmed in Rockdale County.
Covington’s city charter grants the city the power to “protect the safety, health, peace, good order, and general welfare of the public,” and also grants the mayor the power to determine that an emergency exists.
The resolution requires:
♦ Voluntary Shelter in Place: Residents are requested not to loiter, wander, stroll, or play in any public place inside city limits, with the following exceptions:
♦ When a person is on an emergency errand.
♦ When a person is traveling to, or returning directly from and activity involving the exercise of First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, or free exercise of religion.
♦ When a person is engaged in interstate and intrastate vehicular travel through Covington.
♦ When a person is walking, biking or running to or from their residence for recreational or fitness purposes.
♦ When a person is procuring food or medicine or seeking medical care.
Mayor Steve Horton stated that the city wants to encourage people to voluntarily follow the order, but to understand that if the situation gets worse or people aren’t obeying the curfew, that the city council could make it mandatory.
The resolution originally had the curfew time from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., but Anthony Henderson suggested changing it to 9 p.m. to give people getting off work more time to go out and get food. Fleeta Baggett agreed, stating that by 9 p.m. there is now hardly any activity downtown and most business kitchens are closing at 9 p.m.
The council agreed to the time change.
♦ Prohibition on Gatherings: All public assemblages, events and gatherings of 10 or more people shall be prohibited within the city limits, not including employees in restaurants, bars or entertainment establishments, and exempting gatherings within buildings owned by the city of Covington or Newton County.
♦ If a restaurant is licensed to sell beer and wine for on-premises consumption, such restaurant, during the effective dates of this resolution only, shall be authorized to sell unopened bottles of beer or wine currently in inventory as of this date for take-out consumption off-premises.
Horton said this is the city of Covington waiving its ordinance, but that restaurants will still have to contend with state laws and regulations.
♦ The due date and payment of alcohol excise taxes of restaurants licensed to sell alcoholic beverages pursuant to Article 3 of Chapter 5.12 of the Covington code of ordinances shall be delayed through and until June 30, 2020 and shall not be subject to penalties or interest. Any alcohol excise taxes of restaurants that accrue and are unpaid during the period until June 30, 2020 shall be paid to the City in six (6) equal installments in the months of July through December. All alcohol excise taxes of restaurants shall be due and payable in the normal procedure beginning July 1, 2020.
Keck made a motion to approve the resolution. Don Floyd seconded it and the vote was 5-0 in favor.
The council held a second called emergency teleconference meeting at 2 p.m. on March 20 to modify the section of the resolution dealing with gatherings. Horton said they felt the clarification was needed after they heard from people asking what types of businesses were included.
The modified section states:
“All public assemblages, events and gatherings of 10 or more people at all restaurants, coffee shops, bars, night clubs, gyms, trampoline parks, and private social clubs shall be prohibited within the city limits within the hours of the curfew. Employees shall not be counted in determining the size of the assemblage, event, or gathering. For purposes of this resolution, a public assembly, event or gathering shall be defined as an assembly of people in any room or dining area; it being the intent of this resolution to allow more than ten (10) people in such a business, provided that not more than ten (10) patrons may gather in each room or dining area. For purposes of this resolution, a room shall be defined as a part or division of a building enclosed by walls or an outside dining area. Cafeterias and restaurants within any hospital or healthcare facility are exempted.”
Henderson asked if religious centers and supermarkets are included in the gathering prohibition.
Horton said they are not.
Don Floyd made a motion to approve the modification. Fleeta Baggett seconded the motion, and it was approved, 5-0.