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Athens 'shelter in place' could guide state

The college town enacted it two weeks ago

ATHENS, Ga. — While "shelter in place" is pending for the state of Georgia, residents of Athens-Clarke County have been living with it for the last two weeks. It offers a glimpse of how it could work statewide.

"It’s been a ghost town at night," said Jim Wilson, who runs the 40 Watt Club, a well-known downtown Athens music venue. 

The 40 Watt temporarily closed down as a non-essential business under the local government’s shelter-in-place order. 

Yet Wilson is upbeat about it.  

"I kind of feel like we’re a few weeks ahead of the rest of the state – no offense Georgia, but Athens is doing pretty well here," Wilson said.

Athens-Clarke County’s shelter in place order lists 18 non-essential businesses ordered to temporarily close – from music venues to bars to clothing and furniture stores.

But the order exempts 60 businesses – allowing everything from attorneys and car washes to gun stores and take-out restaurants to continue to operate.

The city’s shelter-in-place order allows people to go outside – which, on a warm spring Thursday, they did.  And it allows enforcement. 

But Mayor Kelly Girtz said it’s not about arresting violators.

"We’ve been explicit in saying that’s not going to be one of our mechanisms of enforcement," Girtz said. "We don’t want anyone thinking this is Tiananmen Square in 1989. We want people to know we are here to support you."

Gov. Brian Kemp said much the same thing Wednesday – saying the state order would mostly depend on Georgians policing themselves.  

Girtz said that has worked in Athens.  

"I’ve seen people live in-person and on social media call each other out," Girtz said. "We have a text hotline, a web hotline as well. So that it can be reported to us if there are those individuals in the community or in business that need some guidance."

Girtz said he was among a number of mayors who wrote to Kemp earlier this week to urge him to enact statewide shelter-in-place guidelines.

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