CONYERS — While local governments in Rockdale and Newton counties have been working since late March to put in place ordinances to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order for a statewide shelter in place overrides all local decrees.

Kemp’s order was set to take effect at 6 p.m. on Friday and end on April 13 at 11:59 p.m. The end date is subject to change based on extension of the executive order. The April 13 expiration effectively extends the shelter in place periods that had been enacted by Conyers, Covington, Porterdale, Rockdale County and Newton County by about five days. Oxford’s shelter in place period was set to expire on April 20; that expiration has now been overridden by the governor’s order.

In most aspects the governor’s order is similar to what was contained in local orders; however, one key difference is the area of enforcement.

Kemp initially authorized only the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Safety and any other state officer deputized by the governor or Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security (GEMA) to enforce the business restrictions. The Georgia National Guard and the Department of Public Safety are also requested to “assist” in enforcing the order.

After questions arose Friday about whether local law enforcement officers would be deputized to enforce the order, Gov. Kemp issued an executive order at about 1:30 p.m. deputizing all sheriffs and sheriffs’ deputies in the state.

Officers providing enforcement are expected to give the “business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization not in compliance” notice before mandating closure. Violators will face a misdemeanor.

City police departments are not authorized to enforce the order. When asked if he thought local law enforcement would be deputized at some point, Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said, “I think we would be deputized if it became a problem or there was an issue that the state couldn’t handle.”

The executive order states residents must limit social interaction and stay within their home except to conduct or participate in essential services, perform necessary travel, engage in minimum basic operations for a business or are part of the workforce for critical infrastructure.

Kemp’s order defines essential services as getting supplies or services for your family like food, medicine, medical supplies or items necessary to work from home. Additionally, families can seek medical or emergency services and exercise outdoors as long as they remain 6 feet from anyone who does not live with them.

Included in the order is the closure of all gyms, bowling alleys, theaters, amusement parks, barber shops, salons, massage studios, bars and live performance venues. Restaurants can stay open and only offer takeout, curbside delivery and home delivery.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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