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Fulton County order to punish Atlantans who leave home for nonessential activities

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Fines, jail time possible after officials demand stricter enforcement of social distancing guidelines

Two women push strollers along an empty trail with trees on each side in Atlanta.
The Beltline’s Westside Trail in 2018. Personal exercise is exempt from the latest coronavirus-related restrictions, so long as social distancing guidelines are followed.
Curbed Atlanta

Disregarding public health officials’ insistence to shelter indoors to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is now punishable by fines and potential jail time in Atlanta’s Fulton County.

On Tuesday, the Fulton County Board of Health’s interim director, Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford, issued an administrative order stating that people who don’t shelter in place to the best of their abilities would be committing a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to a year in jail.

The order exempts cases of essential tasks—think grocery shopping, seeking medical care, or helping a family member or pet—and “outdoor activity, provided the individuals remain at least six feet from each other.”

The move came right before Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced he was preparing a statewide shelter-in-place order, in hopes of tamping down the spread of COVID-19, the disease carried by the new coronavirus, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Nearly 5,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed across the state, with 154 deaths as of last evening, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Fulton County has significantly more confirmed cases (638) than any other, with 20 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus as of 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The news comes as some Atlantans and public officials have demanded city government do more to enforce the social distancing guidelines laid out by public health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In a recent poll of 1,500 Curbed Atlanta readers, more than 650 voters have said city officials should close the Beltline and public parks until the outbreak is contained, as of results this morning.

More than 500 others instead voted for stricter enforcement against unnecessary—and unsafe—congregating. Beltline leadership is monitoring the trail’s use while launching a campaign of signage that warns against not following social distancing restrictions, as the agency’s CEO told Curbed Atlanta on Friday.

On Tuesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said she’s been keeping the city’s parks and trails open at the suggestion of Emory University infectious disease expert Dr. Carlos Del Rio.

Del Rio told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday he was reluctant to support the closure of those public spaces because they’re crucial for travel and exercise.

Del Rio advised the mayor that “she ‘strongly encourage’ practicing social distancing in parks and the Beltline, and that she considers a schedule in which maybe ‘vulnerable populations’ may walk at certain times and families and runners at other times, much like grocery stores are doing,” he told the paper.