Henry County the latest to close businesses in bid to stop coronavirus

The Henry County Commission on Tuesday declared a state of emergency and ordered nonessential businesses to close, the latest metro Atlanta community to put the kibosh on places where people gather, to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses such as nail salons, barbershops and massage parlors are to close immediately while restaurants must stop serving diners inside their premises, but are allowed to operate drive-throughs or have curbside pickup service of food. The closures are in effect until April 7.

Such prohibitions have been growing throughout the area, including a duplicate order that was approved by the Stockbridge City Council a few hours before Henry's. Other cities that have closed non-essential businesses include Atlanta, Stonecrest, Brookhaven and South Fulton.

“I think collectively this council wants to do the right thing by our city,” Stockbridge City Councilman Elton Alexander said, adding that the medical and scientific community insist that social distancing can help stem the virus’ spread. “We ask all small business owners, citizens and everybody out there to understand. We’re trying to follow the best medical advice possible to do the right thing.”

The pressure to take such steps has grown as the numbers of infected Georgians continues to increase exponentially. At least 32 people have died in Georgia from the virus and the number of confirmed cases passed 1,000 as of midday Tuesday.

The impact of the virus was clear at both meetings. Henry Commissioners met remotely, with each dialing in to a glitchy teleconference from seven different locations. Stockbridge leaders met at Stockbridge City Hall, but were separated throughout the council chambers to make sure each was at least 6 feet from the others.

At the beginning of the Henry Commission meeting, County Manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews said that the south metro community had about 13 confirmed cases. But as it progressed, Matthews told commissioners she had received updated numbers and that Henry County may have as many as 45 cases by the end of the day.

Commissioner Gary Barham said he had considered voting against the restrictions on business, but changed his mind after Matthews updated the numbers of infected.

“I think we have to talk bold action,” Barham said in voting to close the businesses.

County attorney Patrick Jaugstetter suggested that Henry might consider taking its restrictions further and implementing "shelter in place" rules that would order residents to stay home across the board, except in cases of emergency, to get food or to go for walks or hikes in which residents keep a distance of at least 6 feet from each other. But commissioners defeated a vote to give him an extra hour to come up with language for such an order.

“This is something that would also have to be discussed with the cities,” Commissioner Chairwoman June Wood said. She said she didn’t think a county ‘shelter in place’ order would work without first getting “a collaborative agreement with the cities.”