Augusta Mayor, city leaders condemn large gatherings with strong warning of enforcement

Richmond County

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr., along with other city and state officials, will deliver an update regarding COVID-19 efforts in the City of Augusta, and recent executive orders from the state and local governments.

During the briefing, Mayor Davis extended the Augusta-Richmond County mask mandate until September 8th in order to keep businesses safely open.

He also is encouraging churches to livestream and hold virtual services. He says this is in the best interest of having a “strong, vibrant community” for the future of the city.

The Mayor added that Richmond County, according to statewide numbers, has seen a steady increase in COVID positive cases when compared to other Georgia cities.

Mayor Davis says he believes Governor Kemp is overreaching his authority in his recent executive order banning local mask ordinances.

“In Augusta, we’re going to wear masks.”

Now, the city is moving from the educational phase of the mask mandate into the enforcement phase, in which mask-wearing will be mandated by local law enforcement.

“We will no longer be issuing warnings,” says Sheriff Richard Roundtree. Businesses will be cited and proceed through the legal system.

The Sheriff adds that he will be happy to debate the legality of these ordinances in a court of law – if that means it keeps people out of the hospital.

The recent social media posting of a large gathering at The County Club nightclub was also addressed by the Sheriff.  He said that his office has spoken with the owner about the accusations of violations regarding social distancing and mask mandates.  Sheriff Roundtree also mentioned the owner of the club will be required to attend the next city commission meeting and address the recent concert and rules with city leaders.

Sheriff Roundtree says that reckless conduct charges are being pursued against the owners of the Country Club.

Dr. Stephen Goggans, Director of the East Central Health District states that, “Mask wearing, in particular, is one thing that works.”

Public Health Officials are working with schools for close cooperation in investigations, looking at bus rosters and classroom schedules and seating charts, in order to create contact lists in order to trace the potential spread of the virus in the community.

Meetings are being held every Wednesday between the city and medical providers. Staffing is a problem, and hospitals are having to move around their employees in order to meet needs.

In relation to the stress being placed on the medical infrastructure of the region, Augusta Fire Chief Christopher James says, “We have to understand why the Sheriff is having to take these measures.”

The occupancy load is 35% of the normal occupancy load, so businesses are encouraged to take note of that number, because it is now the responsibility of business owners to enforce these rules in order to keep in line with the mayor’s orders.

“The warning period is over,” and citations will be made.

Mayor Davis says the city and county is facing “a long slog through the Fall on the heels of the opening of schools.”

In terms of reduction of hours of bars, like other cities and counties have done, “No, we are not doing that,” and businesses are being informed that while those steps have not been taken, it is a requirement that businesses take responsibility and make sure the countywide mask mandate is being enforced while within their doors.  

Citations will be written on the spot for businesses not following social distancing, occupancy, and mask guidelines. Deputies will be specifically looking for these infractions. In terms of the legality of these steps, Sheriff Roundtree says that they will go forward with these citations and be testing their constitutionality in a court of law in front of a judge.

Sheriff Roundtree takes responsibility for the three Richmond County deputies who did not enforce the social distancing and occupancy guidelines. He says it was an oversight on the part of his office that the deputies did not know they could shut that business and its activities down.

“Aggressive steps will be taken,” says Mayor Davis.

We will have a replay of the briefing shortly after it concludes.

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