Virus update 3

An effort to coordinate a regional response to coronavirus closures and local regulations didn't happen Tuesday, but a new sense of urgency to stop public gatherings was evident when leaders from five northeast Georgia counties talked about how to respond.

"It's going to snowball if we don't act quickly," said Jackson County Board of Commissioners chairman Tom Crow during a Tuesday conference call with several other Northeast Georgia officials.

The call, organized by Barrow County officials, was designed to see if Barrow, Jackson, Oconee, Gwinnett and Walton counties should adopt similar emergency declarations instead of doing a piecemeal approach. Barrow County officials said they worried that uneven restrictions could just push problems into surrounding jurisdictions where the regulations might be less strict.

The call was sparked in part by a statewide conference call Monday of city and county officials with a doctor from Emory who sounded the alarm that Georgia's COVID-19 cases were about to explode and overwhelm hospitals.

Crow, who also participated in that Monday call, told area officials time was short to enact stronger restrictions to keep people from congregating and spreading the virus. Crow said he favored a regional approach, if that were possible.

For the most part, businesses in Jackson County were voluntarily complying with shutdowns and distancing resolutions, he said. The biggest problem was large family groups crowding local grocery stores, he said.

Barrow County officials indicated that they would take stronger action this week with an emergency order in an bid to stem the spread of the virus. One of the issues in Barrow was a funeral last weekend that reportedly had 250 people attend, a far larger gathering than recommended.

Barrow officials were interested in an order under consideration by Gwinnett County. Barrow leaders said they would likely model their response on Gwinnett's version.

While no regional response emerged from the call, the group did mostly agree that nightly curfews were probably unenforceable and of little benefit. And with the exception of Walton County officials, there seemed to be a consensus that Gov. Brian Kemp's orders Monday didn't go far enough to enforce an end to public gatherings.

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