HIAWASSEE. Ga. – In recent days, FYN received a volume of reports from local citizens concerned with the surge of visitors from areas heavily afflicted with COVID-19. While Towns County is home to many part-time residents, several sweeps through the parking lot of the area’s lone grocery store on any given day or time confirmed a near 50/50 mix of local to out-of-state and metro-Atlanta license plates, with shoppers in search of food and supplies. Likewise, lodging accommodations are seeing a sharp spike in renters hoping to “shelter-in-place” away from urban environments. In an area that welcomes tourists with open arms, local residents are warning of potential repercussions in the midst of the pandemic.
In a Georgia county with the top concentration of senior citizens, the demographic most vulnerable to virus complications, some fear not only shortages but the evident health risks involved with travel. While Towns County remains free of a confirmed coronavirus case at the time of publication, health officials warn that it is a matter of when, not if, COVID-19 arrives.
In reaction to an FYN report from Chief Medical Officer David Rearick of Onecare who focused on the dire consequences that may be in store for Fannin and Union counties, Towns County residents weighed-in. “This is how we should be looking at it in Towns County, also based on the population and any people that have immersed themselves in our community to escape their own, only to bring it with them,” Kelley Denton wrote.
“I’m curious about something,” John Dills asked in a social media group on Sunday. “With the governor refusing to take any steps towards a quarantine, and tourists who don’t see the necessity of staying home, can our city and county officials do anything to stop the influx of travelers until this virus is under control?”
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp stated in a press conference last Thursday that the decision to close businesses or implement additional measures has been delegated to local officials.
Across the state border in nearby Graham County, N.C. officials are doing just that. In response to the growing number of COVID-19 cases in neighboring Cherokee County, lodging accommodations were ordered to close on March 23, and travel restrictions – allowing only property owners and those conducting legitimate business to enter its border – are scheduled to go into effect on March 27. For similar measures to take place in Georgia counties, a local declaration of emergency is the initial step in following suit. While Towns County officials have given no indication of enacting such at press time, FYN remains confident that local leaders are diligently monitoring the unfolding situation.
Last week, Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw stated that the county was in “phase one” of mitigation. “My department heads have been working on this for a couple of weeks for where we’re at right now, for these closings, how we’re handling it, how we’re handling our employees,” Bradshaw said. “If it gets worse, and it possibly could and we pray that it don’t, but if it gets worse and we get people in the county that’s affected with it and showing positive to the virus, we are working now – the department heads and myself – on the next phase.”
Towns County Emergency Management Agency stated on Monday that the issue has been documented with the State.
County officials continue to urge calm, discouraging citizens from engaging in online speculation.
FYN remains in remote contact with Towns County authorities on a continual basis, vowing to provide now-news updates throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.