Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini said he was taken by surprise when Gov. Brian Kemp announced plans Monday to partially reopen some of Georgia’s shuttered economic sectors.
“One of the items that I felt personally was important was to allow for some form of local control,” said Santini, who serves on an advisory committee to Gov. Kemp via the Georgia Municipal Association. “I was hopeful that any actions by the governor would have allowed for communities to act in how they felt was their best interests — his act supersedes any of that, so we’re all under the same guidelines.”
That’s concerning, Santini said, because he believes the COVID-19 outbreak isn’t impacting every community within Georgia identically.
“Obviously, different areas of the state are facing different challenges,” he said. “The challenges that are facing metro Atlanta are different than the ones that are facing some parts of rural south Georgia, certainly, the situation in Albany is different than what we’re facing here in Bartow County.”
Under Kemp’s orders, certain businesses that were ordered to close statewide earlier this month — among them, barber shops, nail salons and gyms — will be allowed to reopen Friday, pending those businesses adhere to specific guidelines.
Kemp would also allow theaters and dine-in restaurants to resume operations starting April 27, albeit, with a litany of “social distancing” restrictions in place. Kemp’s previous “shelter-in-place” executive order still remains in effect until April 30, with the statewide public health emergency currently set to expire on May 13.
“I’m happy that the numbers around here have gotten to the point where it does seem logical that we should be able to be opening up parts of our economy again — the degree and the speed at which that happens, I think, is going to differ from person-to-person,” Santini said. “I would hope that the people who are able to be opening will be using those necessary precautions. The order doesn’t say ‘Go back to the way things were’ … there are guidelines for how employers and employees are supposed to be protecting themselves when they’re dealing with the public.”
In terms of enforcement and compliance, Santini said the order leaves the bulk of the work up to the state’s sheriff’s offices and the Georgia State Patrol.
“Under the State order, the governor was very clear that there’s nothing the local governments — either the City or the County — can do that is either stronger or not as strong as what he has put in place,” he said. “He has decided to take that authority away from local government, so we’ll continue to do our best to comply with what that State order is.”
“I know from a council perspective, my hopeful course of action is that we’re going to continue to do our meetings via videoconference for the entire month of May and we can revisit it in June,” Santini said. “Personally, I would like to see as many people continue to try to do that as they can while they try to put food on their table.”
Still, Santini said he had some worries, specifically regarding the lack of widespread COVID-19 testing.
“I’ve spoken with at least one local church that said they were going to continue doing their services online and not let people into their building until June,” he said. “I think that’s a real responsible thing to do, especially since a number of heavier church-going people are of an older age and in that demographic where they need to continue to be cautious.”
Santini said the City government will continue to base its decisions according to recommendations from the local health department and Cartersville Medical Center officials.
“Those who are not comfortable going out in public and feel the governor’s order may have gone too far in reopening things, well, they need to continue to act like they’ve been acting and [those] people who feel like they’re ready to go out and do whatever they want, hopefully, they’ll be using proper constraint and masks and washing their hands and being responsible,” he said. “The one thing we don’t want to have happen is to get a second wave of this to come through. We’ve tried to take a step forward, I would hate to see us take a couple of steps back and go back to where we started from.”
Santini said only time will tell what the immediate impact of the business reopenings may be on Cartersville’s economy — and the lives of Cartersville residents.
“Even before the State order, I was getting phone calls and messages from business owners, restaurant owners, that some felt we were doing too much, some felt we weren’t doing enough,” he said. “There’s been people who have really had to sacrifice and had their family financial situations put on hold — my hope is that they would be able to get up and start being able to take care of themselves and start rebuilding their businesses and moving forward.”