X

DeKalb CEO urges reopening businesses to go beyond Kemp’s mandates

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond answers questions to residents of Oakhurst during the meeting were residents received the latest information about the plans for the county’s upcoming sewer projects on and around Green Street on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond answers questions to residents of Oakhurst during the meeting were residents received the latest information about the plans for the county’s upcoming sewer projects on and around Green Street on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

By law, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond can't force residents or businesses to follow coronavirus guidelines that are any more stringent than those recently outlined by Gov. Brian Kemp.

It’s well within a local leader’s purview, however, to “urge, advise, encourage and implore” folks to take additional precautions. And Thurmond did so Thursday.

In a new executive order, Thurmond repeated those five words over and over again while laying out what he hopes will be an effective pandemic “transition plan” for DeKalb County. In addition to asking residents to wear masks in public and continue following other guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Thurmond’s order encouraged owners and employees of the businesses allowed to start reopening Friday — places like barber shops, nail salons and fitness centers — to take precautions beyond those recommended by the governor.

The CEO said there’s no question that Kemp’s directives supersede any local mandates.

“But he does not exempt local leaders from demonstrating leadership, and he does not exempt local leaders from encouraging folks to do the right thing and make good decisions,” Thurmond said.

ExploreMORE: Complete coronavirus coverage from the AJC

Under Kemp's order, businesses that reopen Friday — and places like restaurants and theaters that can do so Monday — must follow a series of guidelines. They include screening workers for fever and respiratory illness; enhancing workplace sanitation; maintaining proper social distancing; and wearing masks and gloves if appropriate.

In his aspirational order, Thurmond urged, advised, encouraged and implored DeKalb County businesses to go a few steps further.

The order asked business owners not only to encourage symptomatic employees to stay home, but to allow workers who have a symptomatic individual in their household to stay home as well. It also asks business owners to consider expanding paid leave policies to alleviate the economic pressure for sick employees to show up at work.

In addition, the order asked businesses to provide employees with as much personal protective equipment as possible; to encourage patrons to wear masks; and to clean and sanitize public restrooms between each use.

Some Georgia leaders were supportive of Kemp’s decision to try and start reopening the economy, which he announced Monday. Marietta’s mayor said he was going to get a haircut and hit the gym as soon as possible.

Many more, though, were skeptical. Leaders from Albany to Augusta said it was too soon — as did President Donald Trump.

Earlier in the week, Thurmond questioned Kemp’s decision to start loosening virus-related restrictions on certain businesses, saying he was praying it was the right plan but “preparing for the potential that it may have been a mistake.”

Thursday’s executive order was part of those preparations.

In addition to urging business owners and employees to take additional precautions, Thurmond asked DeKalb County houses of worship to continue sticking to remote services.

It also asked for the state to develop and implement a more robust testing and tracing program — and for the governor and others to “assist and support a rigorous investigation” of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. The latter, Thurmond said, should “include an analysis of the cause and underlying factors that precipitated the outbreak and steps that must be taken to prevent pandemic infections in the future.”

DeKalb County has second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Georgia. About 55% of DeKalb County’s 760,000 residents are black, and recent zip-code level data provided by the DeKalb board of health showed a significant number of coronavirus cases in predominately black areas of the county.