Scores of local leaders in Georgia have expressed outrage, confusion and desperation over the last several days after Governor Brian Kemp issued a statewide executive order last Thursday that re-opened the state’s beaches, superseding measures taken by many communities’ leaders to shut down public to their shores.
While most of the criticism directed at Mr Kemp has come from Democrats, some nonpartisan officials have let loose on the governor and have taken active measures to keep people away from their beaches despite Mr Kemp’s order to open them back up.
On Tybee Island, a community of roughly 3,000 permanent residents and a popular beach destination outside the eastern hub of Savannah, Georgia, Mayor Shirley Sessions is keeping parking lots closed and entryways to the beach blocked. There are no lifeguards and emergency medical services are “not properly staffed” for hospital transports and other medical needs, Sessions said.
“At no time has the state designated a single point of contact to orchestrate the implementation of the Governor’s plan,” Ms Sessions wrote in a scathing letter over the weekend defying Mr Kemp’s order.
That defiance could lead to legal troubles for the mayor, who does not identify as either a Republican or Democrat and has no record of recent campaign contributions to federal political candidates of either party.
“As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines,” Sessions wrote in her weekend letter, referring to a request from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Defense Department last week for body bags.
Ms Sessions’ office is doing its best to maintain a de facto closure of the town’s beaches — despite not having the legal authority to enforce such a closure — by appealing to the public to stay away despite Mr Kemp’s order allowing them access.
“We are now in a position where we are pleading with the public and with our residents to adhere to the beach closing,” Ms Sessions said in a video last Friday filmed on her porch.
Mr Kemp defended his decision to open beaches back up in a Twitter thread Monday, saying “the health and safety of Georgians” are the “top priorities” for himself and “local leaders across the state — including those along our coast.”
“During these difficult times, it is vitally important for Georgians to have safe options to maintain their physical and mental health while also abiding by social distancing,” Mr Kemp tweeted.
State troopers, local law enforcement, and the law enforcement division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are working together to patrol beaches to ensure visitors are abiding by the shelter-in-place order that requires social distancing.
Visitors cannot bring chairs, umbrellas, coolers, or any other items that “encourage group activities,” Mr Kemp wrote.
The governor added that patrols reported “most people” were complying with the order over the weekend and that the beaches were seeing “much lighter traffic… than normal.”
Still, many Democratic leaders in the state suggested the mental and physical health benefits of opening the beaches back up did not outweigh the potential concerns.
“It is stupid and crazy at the same time,” said Democratic commissioner of Glynn County, Ga., Allen Booker, the Atlanta Constitution-Journal reported. “It attracts to the beach larger groups of people, young and old and facilitates the spread of the COVID-19 virus, leading to people dying.”