Columbia County Commissioner to hold businesses to CDC guidelines, will not close them

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COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – Monday morning, Columbia County Commissioners shared more of their COVID-19 plans.

They held a press conference at 9 a.m. at the Emergency Operations Center.

The county plans to hold businesses to CDC guidelines, but will not be forcibly closing them at this time.

To comply with the CDC guidelines there can’t be more than ten people per building, that includes dine-in restaurants and grocery stores.

The county will also get a testing center that will be centrally located.

County Administrator Scott Johnson says they’ll bring more 311 employees in for spot checks.

Operating businesses that don’t comply will get their license revoked.

“Some people are extremely dependent on the ability to be able to do their business. Not to mention, we have the issue of people needing services. Again, if we had any county, or every state, or every place in the United States, if we all took a pause for two weeks, then that would be a different story,” said County Administrator Scott Johnson.

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Doug Duncan’s full statement:

Thank you for joining me today. As you may know, the Board of Commissioners made a statement on Saturday that we would not be mandating any closures for Columbia County businesses at this time.

We, as a Commission, felt it necessary to hold this press conference to address the concerns and questions of our citizens and to let everyone know what we are doing. Please let me begin by saying that we are very aware that we are in uncharted and potentially dangerous waters and every decision made at any level can have serious repercussions. LET ME BE CLEAR, Any suggestion that Columbia County’s primary concern isn’t the safety of our citizens couldn’t be farther from the truth.

We have been closely monitoring the progression and spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) for weeks and have continued to follow the guidelines set forth by President Trump, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Governor Kemp, and the Georgia Department of Health. As a result of the information being provided, we have taken several initiatives to safeguard the populace.

First, we as a county have taken the initiative to partner with MedNow to offer an off-site mobile testing center in Columbia County. Since tests will be limited in the beginning, they will be administered on an as needed basis at first and then expanded to the other Columbia County citizens as more tests become available. We are taking this action independently of any other governmental agency because we feel that such a responsibility is much too important to wait on other approvals or help. We have also taken the initiative to implement the guidelines stressed by the experts for all Columbia County employees and have closed the venues that we control to ensure compliance.

These guidelines include the importance of social distancing, staying at home if you are sick, staying out of emergency clinics and emergency rooms, calling your primary care physician should you start to feel any symptoms, disinfect and sanitize as often as you can, and discouraged gatherings of more than 10 people for all Columbia County employees we’ve closed the venues that we control to ensure compliance. When it comes to individual rights, I, along with my fellow Commissioners, strongly encourage responsible behavior by our citizens, businesses and industries. In the best traditions of Columbia County, we have seen great examples of how our local businesses are policing themselves and adapting their operations to ensure the health and safety of their patrons.

As most of you know, many Columbia County eating establishments are operating with closed dining rooms and drive-thru services only. Other local restaurants are all offering curbside and/or delivery services while also exercising other innovative practices to slow the spread of the virus. The only movie theater in Columbia County has voluntarily closed. And while we continue to encourage every business owner to follow the CDC recommendations and do what is right for their neighbors and employees, we feel that if they ARE taking the recommended precautions, then they deserve the right to do what is best for them. We, as a Commission, believe we should govern by example and encouragement and not by mandate.

No government can protect those that won’t protect themselves. It is important to give private industry the opportunity to do the right thing. It is our experience that almost all of the time, the people and business leaders of Columbia County will put the community first and make the right call. However, we do understand this is not always the case. In Columbia County we’re going to follow the law…That said, Georgia Code does give us the authority to make or amend rules and regulations as may be necessary for emergency management and that exactly what we intend to do. To this end, we have directed staff to institute special rules that will apply to everyone that holds an occupational tax in Columbia County.

These new rules will mandate all Columbia County businesses, to adhere to the guidelines that have been established and shared by the CDC and the World Health Organization to not put their clients/patrons at risk. Obviously, some businesses such as healthcare, childcare, grocers, pharmacies, etc, will be exempt to some extent but even those businesses have a responsibility. If there is a business that is still open and not operating under recommended guidelines, we intend to use our enforcement staff to gain compliance. Those that still do not comply will be at risk of losing their occupational tax and ability to operate in Columbia County in the future. We are committed to following up on all violations of guidance and will do everything within our power to gain compliance.

The EASY thing for us to do as a governing body would be to take political actions and make false promises to our citizens that we may be able to legally enforce. Instead, we’ve chosen to do the RESPONSIBLE thing and work WITH the people of Columbia County during this time of crisis to find innovative ways of facing this challenge together. Only working together, can we succeed and continue being the leading community of our region in liberty and safety for our citizens.

This is not a time for a “feel good” façade. It’s a time for each citizen to examine the facts and follow the recommendations of the experts. It is irresponsible to potentially adversely impact the hardworking business owners of Columbia County by having their clients simply go to a neighboring county or city. The ONLY way for closures to be successful is for EVERY business in EVERY jurisdiction to take a pause at the same time.

We understand your concerns about keeping certain businesses open during this time, and we have read each and every comment, email and text message you sent us. No one here is advocating that anyone visit an open business should you decide it’s not in your best interest. We honestly hope and feel that most Columbia County residents realize that we are just as eager to beat this pandemic as everyone should be, but with some sense of normalcy and private rights intact wherever possible.

Please take care, and we wish you and yours wellness and safety in God’s hands through these trials. May God Bless Columbia County, Georgia and The United States of America.

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