DALTON, Ga. — The Dalton City Council unanimously adopted a joint resolution on Monday declaring a state of emergency in the cities of Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell and the Town of Cohutta in response to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Dalton Mayor David Pennington typically votes only in the event of a tie.
The resolution declares a state of emergency to mitigate the spread of the virus by “limiting all voluntary social gatherings, dine-in restaurant services and exposure at nursing and retirement homes, and providing flexibility regarding the sale of alcohol for off-premises use and for other purposes,” according to the city. The state of emergency went into effect at 5 p.m. on Monday and will remain in effect until April 13, unless other action extends that time period.
• There shall be no “voluntary social gatherings” of more than 10 people, including for religious services, funeral visitations or services, theaters or entertainment venues, private social functions, gyms and fitness centers, and flea markets or yard sales.
• Restaurants, bars and similar establishments, including all food service permit holders, shall be closed to the public except for drive-through, pick-up, carry-out or delivery service for food and drink, although cafeterias in hospitals and nursing homes will be exempt “provided they exercise caution in limiting numbers and distancing people.”
• “Restaurants with licenses to sell beer and wine by the drink (can) sell unopened, sealed containers of beer or wine (not distilled spirits) for take-out consumption off the premises during the term of the emergency declaration. Open container laws and ordinances remain in effect.”
Kasey Carpenter, owner of the Oakwood Cafe and Cherokee Brewing + Pizza Company, both downtown, is concerned the resolution will hurt his restaurants. He told the Daily Citizen-News last week that his in-house restaurant sales were already down about 40%, and catering was down about 90%.
Now, “it will drop sales another 25%, (and) we will overall be down 75% between the two shops,” Carpenter said on Monday. “We have just put over 70% of our workforce on unemployment, 70 people, and I haven’t put more than five total in the last 20 years combined.”
Derek Waugh, who represents Ward 1 on the City Council, urged individuals to purchase gift cards for later use to support local businesses.
He added that the United Way of Northwest Georgia has established a coronavirus response fund to meet needs in the local community.
“This community can be a shining example of how to come together during a crisis,” Waugh said. “I have no doubt we’ll do that.”
Donations to the United Way of Northwest Georgia’s response fund can be made online at ourunitedway.org, from the link at the Facebook page @unitedwaynwga and on Instagram at unitedwaynwga. More information can be found on the website or by calling (706)-CAN-HELP.
The Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia is also setting up a fund to assist locals in need, and fundraising for that begins this week, said Rob Bradham, president and CEO of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce. While the recipients of those funds will be determined later based on need — “it will be a moving target for the time being” — the “intent is to help locally.”
Additionally, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce has a list of resources, including those from the United States Small Business Administration, available on its website, Bradham said. The Small Business Administration offers low-interest loans to small businesses to make payroll and/or debt payments in order to avoid laying off workers.
Carpet and Rug Institute President Joe Yarbrough believes it’s paramount for manufacturing operations to remain open during this time, and he plans to lobby Gov. Brian Kemp to designate those employees as “essential.”
It’s pivotal for manufacturing not to shut down, not only to continue making valuable products, but also to keep workers employed, Yarbrough said, noting, “We’re doing everything we can to operate with common sense during this emergency.”
Waugh said child care is a concern for many individuals, especially medical professionals, since schools are closed.
“It’s our job at this time to help,” he said.
Pennington noted that a couple of local day cares are open, and others hope to reopen on April 6.
Waugh hopes the city’s website will soon have a section devoted to updates about the pandemic and resources for assistance, and Jason Parker, the city administrator, said that is in the works.
During this public health emergency, the city continues to protect public safety and provide critical services, such as public works, sewage and water, although department heads have discretion in terms of adjusting schedules or allowing some staff members to work from home, Parker said. “They are taking care of business.”
The mayor and City Council will continue to meet at noon each day at City Hall until these meetings are deemed no longer necessary, according to the city. The purpose of the meetings is to assess the evolving situation with the spread of COVID-19 in the state and region and to take any actions necessary to implement or adjust operational plans in response.
Because City Hall and other city buildings are closed to the public as a precaution against spreading the disease, the meetings are broadcast online on the city’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CityOfDalton. They can also be viewed on the video conferencing app Zoom.
During these daily meetings, the city will often share information from the Whitfield County Health Department, said Annalee Harlan, who represents Ward 2 on the City Council. That information, as well as other notes from the daily meetings, will be available on the city’s website and Facebook page, too.
The city plans to make as many documents as possible available in Spanish as well as English, Parker said. Those will also be available on the city’s website.
Staff writer Charles Oliver contributed to this report.