COVINGTON, Ga. — When local resident Monica Darrah voiced concerns about the lack of social distancing and number of people without face coverings within the city, Covington Mayor Steve Horton swiftly responded with a course of action.
Darrah spoke under public comments during the Covington City Council’s meeting Monday night saying she thought the city was losing business over its lack of enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s a community concern with the lack of social distancing being practiced by our citizens,” she said. “Masks are the exceptions versus the rules, and whereas we understand that Gov. [Brian] Kemp is not mandating masks, etc., you know we are seeing spikes in the state of Georgia of COVID-19 cases, and it’s disturbing … to go to some of these establishments, and they’re not practicing social distancing either. As you mentioned, there have been rallies, and I’ve been to a couple of those myself, and I think it's as though people think it’s July 2019. My question, just as a private citizen, is what can you as our leaders — what is the current plan? Are you all going to do some enforcement or mandating of this mask wearing?”
Counties and cities aren’t allowed to issue a mask mandate under Kemp’s latest order, but Horton said the city was looking at ways to better enforce restrictions related to the novel virus.
The mayor said he and City Manager Scott Andrews had discussed making copies of the order for police to have while on patrol. So if a person or business is found not abiding by the order, the officer can tell them to stop, give them a copy of the order and remind them of what is allowed under the state’s guidelines.
“We can enforce those things to the extent that the order allows us to enforce them,” Horton said. “We can’t create penalties that don’t exist in the order, but we can do what the order says.
“I’m not being critical of the governor, but I’m just saying that by law we can only do what’s in that order, but we do plan on working to enforce his order as much as we can.”
Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams said Darrah’s concern was one she had, too.
“I understand her concern,” she said. “It’s been my concern for quite some time now, but, you know, it’s hard to make people do what it is they’re supposed to do. I don’t know how many deaths it's going to take for us to do right.”
Councilwoman Susie Keck also had the same concern. She implored the public to wear masks for everyone’s benefit.
“I know they say when you wear a mask its protecting others, but to me, wear a mask and it shows you care and it also shows you’re taking care of yourself,” Keck said.
Councilman Kenneth Morgan was proud to see some of the city’s retailers now require masks and also encouraged others to continue social distancing and wear masks.
Councilman Anthony Henderson said he’s noticed that most younger people, typically between the ages of 20-30, had been ignoring calls to wear a mask.
“I just think that maybe we should definitely be more vocal to them and just kind of remind them how — I get that we aren’t the vulnerable ones … but at least we can try to look out for others and be more concerned for the people around us,” he said.
If someone were to walk into a restaurant and feel unsafe because people weren’t following the state’s order, councilwoman Fleeta Baggett suggested calling the COVID-19 hotline 1-844-442-2681 to report them.
To be better educated as COVID-19 continues to spread, Horton said the city would be restarting its weekly call to hear from a local health care official about the virus's impact. Surrounding government partners of the city are expected to listen in as well, Horton said.
“With all the infections on the rise and deaths going up locally here and across the state, it’s easy to get conflicting information about what’s going on, so this call will allow us to obtain facts and ask questions,” he said.
As of Tuesday, Newton County had a total of 1,239 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 146 hospitalizations and 21 deaths. There were a total of 148,988 confirmed cases, 3,254 deaths and 15,494 hospitalizations statewide.