Rangers to break up large gatherings at lakes and parks, state says


The state will begin enforcing social distancing requirements in areas where large groups congregate at state parks and lakes, officials said Sunday.

Rangers with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources will patrol lakes and campgrounds, monitoring coves and other areas where people tend to gather, according to a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp and DNR Commissioner Mark Williams.

The announcement followed reports that large groups had gathered in boats on Georgia's lakes over the weekend.

Due to growing concerns over the coronavirus, the governor issued an executive order last week banning gatherings of more than 10 people unless there is at least six feet between each person.

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

“If necessary,” officials said Sunday, rangers will use bullhorns to tell people to comply with the order.

“Officials will approach people in violation of the order and demand compliance for the well-being of our citizens and state,” the statement said.

Combined ShapeCaption
Lake Oconee. Contributed by Greene County CVB

Lake Oconee. Contributed by Greene County CVB

Combined ShapeCaption
Lake Oconee. Contributed by Greene County CVB

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said his deputies broke up a large group on an island in Lake Sinclair and have told several boats that had too many people in them to head back to shore. They have also received reports of large groups gathering on the Greene County side of Lake Oconee.

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“We've had a massive influx, I guess, from people ... (who) think the coronavirus can't touch ‘em down here,” Sills said in an interview Sunday. “And we fortunately have not had a reported case yet, but we would would also like to keep it that way.”

So far, his office hasn’t made any arrests related to the coronavirus restrictions put in place by Putnam County and the state.

“These orders, these ordinances have been enacted to save lives. Don't think you can just come down here and violate them,” the sheriff said. “There's not some immunity out there in a gathering of 50, 100 people on an island or sandbar in the lake.”

The state leaders pointed out that amid the coronavirus pandemic, many Georgians have been “traveling to nearby counties, heading outdoors for fresh air, and maximizing family time.” Residents are urged to avoid large crowds and remain mindful of social distancing requirements.

Kemp’s executive order stopped short of closing the state’s parks and lakes. The governor also did not order most Georgians to stay in their homes, but he did place restrictions on those considered most at risk of infection.

Local officials across the state have imposed their own restrictions on businesses and outdoor activities. Kemp said Sunday that the local leaders “are also working hard to ensure compliance with local directives, which vary by city and county across our state.”