UPDATE: Alabama on Friday afternoon issued a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The order, which requires people to stay at their residences with some exceptions, is set to take effect Saturday.
Marion and Quitman were among a dwindling number of Georgia counties with no documented cases of the novel coronavirus this week. That changed Friday morning when state health officials recorded one positive COVID-19 test result for each.
The two small Southwest Georgia counties have scrambled to block the spread of the highly contagious disease, declaring emergencies, limiting gatherings of people and ordering curfews. They now worry those efforts could be hindered by the actions of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and the inactions of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
Many people travel back and forth across the Alabama-Georgia border to work, shop and see friends and family. This week, Kemp joined at least 37 other states in telling people to stay home. He also deputized local sheriffs, giving them the authority to help enforce his order and close businesses.
Ivey has so far refused to do the same, telling the Montgomery Advertiser last week: “Y’all, we are not Louisiana, we are not New York State, we are not California. Right now is not the time to order people to shelter in place.”
Combined, Marion and Quitman are home to more than 10,000 Georgians. They are largely rural communities, though they feature popular attractions, including the eye-popping Pasaquan art environment artist Eddie Owens Martin created near Buena Vista.
“I hope the state of Alabama will take a look at what other states are doing and what methods seem to be working,” said Marion County Commission Chairman George Neal Jr. “It is serious. And we don’t want it to spread any further.”
Carvel Lewis, chairman of the Georgetown-Quitman County Commission, predicted Ivey will change course.
“I do expect that she will come out with something,” Lewis said Friday, “if not today then before Monday because I do know that there is a lot of concern along the natural line between Georgia and Alabama as well as between Alabama and Florida.”
As of midday Friday, more than 90% of the nation’s population in at least 38 states was under lockdown orders, covering roughly 300 million people. But a dozen states still had no statewide shelter-in-place restrictions, including neighboring Alabama and South Carolina.
Meanwhile, the new order Kemp announced this week suspends the patchwork of restrictions local governments adopted, meaning some more stringent or lenient rules embraced by some cities and counties are no longer in place. That has sparked widespread confusion. In Cobb County, for instance, officials insist Kemp’s order won’t force them to reopen parks.
Some local emergency actions, including curfews and more restrictive shelter-in-place rules, are now impermissible. Buena Vista, Marion’s county seat, had enacted a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
“We know a lot of the younger guys like to hang out in the evening time. We were really targeting that age group,” Buena Vista Mayor Kevin Brown said. “Unfortunately, that governor’s order yesterday wiped that away.”
Similar orders in other states have led to frustration and outrage. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis was forced to clarify this week that mayors and local commissioners “can do more in certain situations” after signing an order that appeared to nullify their rules.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom launched into “deeply complex” negotiations over whether his executive order conflicted with more stringent mandatory restrictions some communities imposed.
And in Mississippi, mayors scrambled after Gov. Tate Reeves’ executive order clashed with their more restrictive measures, forcing the Republican to release a notice calling the rules a “floor statewide” for local governments to follow.
Meanwhile, state health officials will be offering COVID-19 testing for symptomatic Georgia residents in Marion and Quitman next week.
“Now that we have the testing in those two counties starting next week,” said Pamela Kirkland, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health’s west central health district, “I’m sure that, unfortunately, we will probably see some cases.”
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