KEY POINTS

  • Several local officials criticized Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp for his statewide shelter-in-place order reopening beaches that had been closed for weeks before the order
  • The beaches were reopened due to Kemp's shelter-in-place order considered outside exercise to be an "essential service"
  • Kemp has reassured that authorities would be out patrolling the beaches to ensure there weren't large crowds and anyone out practiced proper social distancing

Some local officials in Georgia have denounced Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to reopen several beaches that had been closed to combat the spread of COVID-19. Kemp’s order drew fierce criticism from the mayor of Tybee Island, a small coastal city of 3,100 people that draws tourists and has limited resources to fight the outbreak.

“As the Pentagon ordered 100,000 body bags to store the corpses of Americans killed by the Coronavirus, Governor Brian Kemp dictated that Georgia beaches must reopen, and declared any decision makers who refused to follow these orders would face prison and/or fines,” Tybee Island Mayor Shirly Sessions said Saturday in a statement on the city’s official website.

Most of the population on the small barrier island is over the age of 65, so shuttering the beaches was considered crucial given the coronavirus threat to the elderly. Tybee Island also has no hospital and just 25 sworn police officers.

Sessions called Kemp's decision a "reckless mandate." Sessions had ordered the closure of Tybee Island’s beaches nearly two weeks before Kemp’s order was signed.



Georgia’s shelter-in-place order took effect at 6 p.m. on Friday and is set to expire on April 13. As with other states battling COVID-19, the order asks residents to stay home with the exception of going out for “essential services.” Such essential services included outdoor exercise, which is what led to beaches being reopened across the state.

Kemp said authorities would monitor beaches to help limit the number of visitors and ensure proper CDC guidelines on social distancing. He also shared a video of Tybee Island’s beach on Twitter.

Despite Kemp’s assurances on patrolling, Sessions said the city wasn’t properly staffed.

“While the beaches have to reopen under the Governor’s order, Tybee will not have beach access and parking lots will remain closed until further notice,” Sessions said. “It should also be noted that Tybee currently is not properly staffed with Emergency Medical Services and there are no lifeguards in place. At no time has the state designated a single point of contact to orchestrate the implementation of the Governor’s plan.”

Candice Broce, Kemp's director of communications, told media Sunday that the governor's office had contacted Sessions and it was “ready to provide resources to ensure compliance with the order.”

Glynn County Commissioner Allen Booker told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the order was “stupid and crazy at the same time” and that "it attracts larger groups of people, young and old, and facilitates the spread of the COVID-19 virus, leading to people dying."

Mayor Van Johnson of Savannah, a city located about 18 miles from Tybee Island, appeared on NBC Nightly News on Sunday. He said that Kemp's order “does not compute" since we are “in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and while we are closing schools we are reopening beaches.”

Brian_Kemp Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp just recently found out about the asymptomatic spread of the coronavirus despite the CDC and other health agencies sharing this information for weeks. Photo: Georgia National Guard/Flicker