A coalition of nearly a dozen South Fulton County elected officials are speaking out against Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to begin reopening some businesses today. They are urging residents to stay at home and stay safe.
“We need to stay the course, not jump onto a collision course” said East Point Councilmember Stephanie Gordon, and South Fulton Regional Elected Officials coalition member.
Under Kemp’s new order, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools, and massage therapists can all reopen their doors today. Theaters, private social clubs, and restaurant dine-in services will be allowed to resume business on Monday.
According to Gordon and her colleagues, the state of Georgia has not met Phase I criteria set forth by the “Opening Up America Again” federal guidelines. The federal benchmark outlines that states should experience a downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period before implementing Phase I of the re-entry strategy.
To date, the state of Georgia has reported 22,147 cases and 892 deaths. These numbers have increased daily with no confirmed indication of a peak, plateau or decline.
In a joint statement, the coalition of officials stated: “We will continue to strongly urge our constituents to stay home as much as possible until there is an undisputable decline in reported COVID- 19 cases for at least 14 days; increased testing capabilities in underserved communities; and confirmation that Georgia has the capacity to accommodate a surge in the number of reported cases.”
The coalition is especially concerned about potential foot traffic at Camp Creek Marketplace in East Point and the Princeton Lakes Shopping Center in Atlanta, and patrons seeking out non-essential services in the area in droves. Together the centers are one of the busiest shopping destinations in the state. Officials worry that the reopening of barber shops, hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters and restaurant dining rooms – all of which can be found in these shopping centers – will compromise shelter-in-place efforts and increase the transmission of COVID-19.
Officials aren’t unsympathetic to the business owners. State Representative William Boddie, who partnered with Gordon to launch the coalition, is a small business owner himself. Both his dentist and barber are located in the Camp Creek Marketplace. He applauds them for remaining closed.
“We’re coming together to inform our community of the potential harm and danger of going out into the marketplace as if it’s business as usual,” he said. “It’s not business as usual. We have to look at potential loss of life, over the economics of moving forward. Based on the data and what the global pandemic experts are telling us, now is not the right time to reopen Georgia.”
Recognizing that the pandemic has caused many businesses to lose substantial revenue, Councilmember Gordon has been using her own personal funds to purchase food and treats from local retailers to surprise essential medical and hospitality personnel in the area.
“I believe in our small businesses that much,” she said. “I have great relationships with the small and corporate businesses and property management companies, but I want my business constituents and their patrons to be safe.”
Gordon says that one of the reasons why coalition members’ concerns are heightened is that African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately contracting COVID-19. East Point has a 70 percent African American population and growing Hispanic community. African Americans comprise over 90 percent of the City of South Fulton’s population.
According to the coalition’s statement: “Opening businesses that require high levels of personal contact in an area where the population is two times more likely to contract COVID-19 is not in the best interest of these Georgians. Imposing a reentry strategy too soon can potentially breed hot spots in the South Metro region particularly within the adjoining retail centers.”
Councilwomen Carmalitha Gumbs and Helen Willis are also coalition members. The Camp Creek Marketplace is visited often by many of their constituents. Both, along with Mayor William “Bill” Edwards and the remaining members of the city council have continued to encourage residents to follow the guidelines issued by experts.
“We understand that social distancing and sheltering in place can be difficult, no one wants to feel isolated,” said Gumbs. “But we’re asking residents to resist the impulse to engage in pre-pandemic behaviors. You can still support local businesses and satisfy your cravings by ordering take-out or having food delivered rather than dining in. Explore other ways to fight boredom rather than venturing out into nearby shopping centers for your safety and the safety of others in the community.”
Councilwoman Willis recently lost two relatives to the pandemic. She said that both staying put and collaborating as a community are key.
“To ensure that we all remain safe and healthy, I am encouraging all residents to continue to shelter in place,” said Willis. “Only go out for necessary shopping. This crisis will be over sooner if we all work together.”
The South Fulton Regional Elected Officials coalition is in the process of rolling out the details of its “Stay Home, Stay Safe” campaign. And Boddie says that at the state level, the Georgia House Democratic Caucus will be exploring policy related to helping Georgia’s workers, business owners and medical facilities recover from setbacks created by the pandemic. Regular updates are forthcoming in the weeks ahead.
The following is a full list of the South Fulton Regional Elected Officials Coalition: Rep. William Boddie (D-62); Sen. Nikema Williams (SD-39); Rep. Roger Bruce (D-61); Rep. Kim Schofield (D-60); Commissioner Marvin Arrington, Jr. (District 5 – Fulton County); Councilmember Marci Oversreet (District 11- Atlanta); Councilmember Stephanie Gordon (Ward D – East Point); Councilmember Joshua Butler, IV (Ward D At- Large- East Point); Councilmember Carmalitha Gumbs (District 2 – City of South Fulton); Councilmember Helen Willis (District 3 – City of South Fulton); and Councilmember Derrick Taylor (Ward II – College Park).
Photo Credit: Weingarten Realty