Georgia’s GOP Governor Signs Executive Order Reopening Beaches As Death Toll Soars

Some Georgia beaches will reopen this weekend following an executive order issued by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp that overrode local shelter-in-place mandates from a number of cities that were aimed at limiting the community spread of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the order would allow popular beaches in Georgia, such as Tybee Island, to reopen after they had closed because of local measures.

“The Governor’s Executive Order suspends the enforcement of any local ordinance or order adopted or issued since March 1, 2020, that relates to COVID-19,” said Josh Hildebrandt, director of public and governmental affairs for the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“This Executive Order thus lifted any local ordinances or orders that had closed or restricted access to Georgia beaches,” superseding local government blocks and opening all beaches in Georgia, Hildebrandt added.

The order, which went into effect Friday night at 6 p.m., allows for people to exercise outside as long as they maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other individuals.

Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions previously ordered beaches in the area to be shut down.

State Rep. Jesse Petrea (R) wrote on Facebook that he had notified the mayor of the changes earlier Friday and said the beach would not be “expressly closed” under the governor’s new order but emphasized that “NO congregating” would be enforced by DNR rangers.

While Georgia beaches will remain open during the statewide shelter-in-place ordinance, the public will not be allowed to place chairs, tents or umbrellas on beaches until the order is lifted after April 13, reports The Hill.

Georgia has 6,160 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, spanning 139 counties with 201 deaths as of Saturday afternoon.

Kemp, who had resisted imposing tougher measures to tackle the pandemic, said on Wednesday that he joined other Republican governors including the leaders of Florida and Mississippi in announcing he would sign a stay-at-home order only after he said he recently learned that asymptomatic people could transmit coronavirus.

“The reason I’m taking this action, like I’ve continued to tell people, I’m following the data, I’m following the advice of Dr. [Kathleen] Toomey,” Kemp said in response to a reporter’s question at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Finding out that this virus is now transmitting before people see signs, so what we’ve been telling people from directives from the CDC for weeks now that if you start feeling bad, stay home… those individuals could’ve been infecting people before they ever felt bad. But we didn’t know that until the last 24 hours. And as Dr. Toomey told me, this is a game changer for us.”

Kemp’s remarks prompted shocked reactions on Twitter, with Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, noting: “In a bizarre turn of events, information the rest of the nation had in January didn’t reach Georgia Governor Brian Kemp until April.”

Anthony S. Fauci, a lead member of the White House coronavirus task force, had been talking about asymptomatic transmission more than two months ago.

“You know that in the beginning, we were not sure if there were asymptomatic infection, which would make it a much broader outbreak than what we’re seeing. Now we know for sure that there are,” Fauci said at a Jan. 31 task force briefing. “It was not clear whether an asymptomatic person could transmit it to someone while they were asymptomatic. Now we know from a recent report from Germany that that is absolutely the case.”

On Feb. 4, Fauci said: “We had been getting reports from highly reliable people in China — scientists, investigators and public health people who we’ve known over the years — and they’ve been telling us, ‘There’s asymptomatic disease, for sure, and we are seeing asymptomatic transmission.’ ”