The Jefferson City Council, seeking to limit crowds and the spread of the Coronavirus, unanimously approved an emergency ordinance March 23 that prohibits dine-in service at restaurants, taprooms and food-service establishments for the next 30 days. It also prohibits gatherings of 10 or more people for the same length of time. Restaurants in the town can still provide take-out orders.
Jefferson's measures went into effect March 24 at noon.
The ordinance passed by the council provided tougher restrictions than some of the measures ordered by Gov. Brian Kemp on March 23. Kemp banned gatherings of 10 or more people unless individuals remain six feet apart. That ban lasts only until April 6. His executive order included the closure of nightclubs and bars and for the “medically fragile” to shelter in place, but it did not address dine-in service.
Some eating establishments in Jefferson had kept their dining rooms open despite Center of Disease Control recommendations against gatherings of 10 or more people and to maintain a distance of at least six feet between individuals to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious disease.
“We really wanted and depended on businesses to do the right thing, and a lot them have,” Mayor Steve Quinn said. “A lot of them are hurting because they did the right thing, and we appreciate what they’ve done. But there are some that are still allowing inside dining, which scares me a little bit. We may be overreacting, but what if we’re not?”
Amid safety concerns with the Coronavirus outbreak, Jefferson closed its meeting to the public Monday night, but made it available via live stream on the city fire department’s Facebook page.
The council probably won’t meet again until at least May as Quinn said the April meetings will probably be cancelled.
CONCERNED ABOUT OTHER BUSINESSES
Jefferson’s actions come after some in the city have struggled to follow state and CDC recommendations. In addition to some restaurant dining rooms remaining open, Quinn pointed to other areas of concern.
The Pendergrass Flea Market closed its indoor market, but didn’t halt its outside operation. Quinn said he was disappointed in that.
“Because that’s a lot of people coming to the City of Jefferson that we don’t know where they’ve been or who they’ve been around,” Quinn said.
He also said he’s seen kids congregating in large groups on football and soccer fields while out of school.
“That worries me,” Quinn said.
Quinn added that some wedding venues are staying open despite the outbreak.
Several Jefferson council members said they wrestled with their decisions before voting.
Councilman Malcolm Gramley called it a “shame” to have to put small businesses in jeopardy because some didn’t follow guidelines.
“We’re penalizing the businesses because individuals refused to take responsibility for their actions,” Gramley said. “And I think that’s terrible, and I don’t know how you get around it. I don’t know that we can get around it.”
Gramley later added, “As much as I hate to, I have to vote for this. And this has given me some sleepless nights.”
Councilman Mark Mobley said he doesn’t take limiting the freedom of assembly or hurting businesses lightly. But when he learned of the volume of people from outside of Jefferson visiting the flea market, he made his decision.
“I don’t see that we have any choice but to do this at this moment,” Mobley said. “But I want us to understand the gravity of what we’re doing. By doing this, yes, we are saving lives in all hopefulness. But we’re also destroying some things, and we need to understand that.”
Councilman Jon Howell said he “reluctantly” felt the city needed to impose these restrictions, expressing a dislike for “onerous” red tape and regulations as well as having to limit individual choice. But he saw this as an exception.
“When the people have been given the opportunity to make the right choice for the betterment of our community and have chosen not to, I think it’s our elected responsibility to intervene,” he said.