DeKalb puts restrictions on businesses, gatherings

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond has declared a state of emergency and issued an executive order that prohibits public gatherings of 10 or more people, puts restrictions on local restaurants and other businesses, and enacts a “voluntary curfew.”

Thurmond announced the measures Monday morning, as coronavirus numbers in Georgia continue to grow with increased testing. As of noon Monday, Georgia had 772 confirmed coronavirus cases and had reported 25 deaths. Seventy-five cases had been confirmed in DeKalb County.

Under Thurmond’s order, DeKalb residents are asked to “shelter in place as much as possible” and follow a “voluntary curfew” that will run from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day. Businesses deemed “non-essential” are also ordered to close during those hours.

Effective Tuesday, public gatherings of 10 or more people will also be prohibited. Businesses like bowling alleys, gyms, fitness centers, nail salons, spas and other personal grooming facilities are ordered to keep their occupancy below that threshold.

Restaurants, breweries and bars will be prohibited from offering dine-in service and restricted to take-out and delivery. They will also be allowed to sell unopened wine and beer for consumption off-site.

Thurmond said that DeKalb County will also put a 60-day moratorium on evictions; that water service terminations will be suspended; and that WorkSource DeKalb “will immediately utilize $1.3 million to assist DeKalb workers dislocated from their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Thurmond said that “front-line” county workers — a group that includes staff from public safety, sanitation, watershed and a handful of other departments — will receive increased pay and accrue extra comp time during the emergency period. County employees who provide services that are currently deemed non-essential and aren’t equipped to work remotely will still be paid — and will be on-call to assist in other departments if needed.

“While COVID-19 is a serious threat to public health, we cannot ignore the realities of the economic fallout so many businesses and employees are experiencing,” Thurmond said in a news release. “We are experiencing parallel health and economic crises.”

Asked about residents who may flaunt the new directives, Thurmond had a simple message.

“You have to think about how you may impact the lives of others,” he said. “Don’t be so damn selfish.”

‘A deliberate and careful manner’

Thurmond closed county buildings to the public last week and, on Friday, initiated a test of the county's "public health emergency protocol." That involved reducing on-site staffing as much as possible and seeing if the county was able to continue delivering vital services to residents.

But the CEO had faced increasing pressure to take more significant action, as a flurry of DeKalb County cities adopted their own restrictions on restaurants and other gathering places. State legislators from DeKalb also had urged Thurmond to be more proactive.

Thurmond pushed back on the criticism.

“Edicts, executive orders, mandatory closures have a significant detrimental effect on all citizens and cause unintended consequences if not made in a deliberate and careful manner,” he said.

One vocal critic, state Sen. Sally Harrell, said Monday she was glad to see Thurmond taking action and urged local cities to “bring their restrictions up to at least match the county standard.”

Thurmond also invited local cities to do so.

Joseph Geierman, the mayor of Doraville, which has imposed some of the strictest virus-related restrictions, said Monday afternoon he was open to possibly adjusting Doraville's rules to be the same as the county's.

But first, Geierman said, he would watch to see if Gov. Brian Kemp enacts broad statewide rules for businesses and residents.

“That’s what we’ve been waiting for for two weeks,” he said. “I really do hope that he takes some action on limiting public gatherings.”

Otherwise, the mayor said, Georgia communities are left with a "patchwork" of differing rules.

Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson also said he was closely following the situation and "consulting with others as the day progresses."

—Staff writer J.D. Capelouto contributed to this article.