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Governor plans to reopen businesses, but Decatur won’t reopen government buildings

COVID-19 Decatur Metro ATL

Governor plans to reopen businesses, but Decatur won’t reopen government buildings

Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold
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Decatur, GA – The city of Decatur can’t force businesses to remain closed once Gov. Brian Kemp opens them.

But the governor’s decision to reopen many businesses shuttered by COVID-19 won’t have any bearing on whether many of the city’s buildings reopen.

City Manager Andrea Arnold on April 20 responded to the governor’s announcement that gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists can reopen their doors on Friday, April 24. He also announced that theaters, private social clubs, and restaurant dine-in services will be allowed to reopen on Monday, April 27.

Kemp said when these businesses reopen it will not be “business as usual.”

“Each of these entities will be subject to specific restrictions, including adherence to Minimum Basic Operations, social distancing, and regular sanitation,” Kemp said. “Minimum Basic Operations includes, but is not limited to, screening workers for fever and respiratory illness, enhancing workplace sanitation, wearing masks and gloves if appropriate, separating workspaces by at least six feet, teleworking where at all possible, and implementing staggered shifts.”

Kemp made his announcement hours before the Decatur City Commission’s regular meeting, held via Zoom conference call.

“The press conference was at 4 p.m. this afternoon,” Mayor Patti Garrett said. “We were all scrambling to figure out what all was going to be covered.”

Garrett predicted the city would be holding conference-call meetings in May. And Arnold, the City Manager, said her plan is to keep many government buildings closed until she sees evidence that the pandemic is under control.

Arnold said the city has no ability to enact stricter local measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“The governor was extremely clear that local governments may not enact any orders that are contrary to his order that we can’t pass anything that’s stricter or less strict,” Arnold said. “That was made clear by the governor. With that said, I do encourage that these impacted businesses [considering reopening] … make those decisions carefully with the health and safety of employees and customers as their top priority.”

Arnold also made it clear that the governor’s order won’t affect whether Decatur’s government reopens its facilities.

“The governor’s decision does not change our city operations,” Arnold said. “Our city facilities will remain closed to the public and they will not reopen until we properly determine we can protect our employees and our customers, our residents and any other visitors to our facilities.”

She said there are still “unknowns” that the city must take into account.

“Personal protective equipment is still extremely hard to acquire, and we would need even more of that equipment for employees if we were able to reopen to the public,” Arnold said. “Also, more cleaning supplies. It’s hard to find Clorox wipes and Lysol. We’re not going to reopen our facilities if we can’t keep them safe. There may be a need to be some retrofitting to some of the workspaces. In some of the work areas, we may need to put in some plexiglass shields to protect our residents and customers as well as our employees and certainly until we can find toilet paper with the rest of the country, we won’t be in a position to open up our buildings either.”

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Youth sports activities are also on hold until the city determines what is needed to reopen these activities safely.

“In the short term, to make this decision we need to have confidence in testing resources in the metro area, meaning the number of tests available, the convenience of these tests, the timeliness and locations,” Arnold said. “The testing needs to be in place as well as a system for contact tracing. We still need a good deal more information from other authorities about testing and contact tracing. We need to have a higher level of confidence in testing and contact tracing.

“Of course, ultimately, we’re hopeful for antibody testing and a vaccine. That’s clearly some ways off. So, until then, our plan is remaining vigilant with our practices to prevent the spread of the disease, also. … There is some time before we see city services are anywhere back to the level we were accustomed to, even two months ago.”

Arnold said residents can expect to see some changes within the business district as some businesses choose to reopen. She was confident these business owners would handle it the right way.

“They’re going to take every precaution to protect the community,” Arnold said. “Ultimately, city organization and operations, we’re still not open to the public and we’re going to be looking for some more definitive data definitely from public health before we’re in a position to get back to any kind of normal.”

In other news, the City Commission approved a memorandum of understanding between the city, the Development Authority and the nonprofit Decatur Legacy Project to implement a small business loan program. The city created a $500,000 business loan fund. Businesses can receive up to $25,000 through the program. The city contributed $400,000 and the other $100,000 will come from the Decatur Development Authority.

Deputy City Manager Saxon hopes to have the program up and running by the end of the month. For more information about that program, click here.

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