The Helen City Commission has declared a local state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus.
The city held a called meeting Tuesday, March 24, after Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order the day before. Commissioners were spread out in the meeting room to abide by social distancing guidelines, and two commissioners, Geneva Elwell and Fred Garmon, attended via teleconference.
Kemp’s order mandated that no business, establishment, corporations, non-profit corporation or organization shall allow more than 10 people to be at a single location if the gathering requires people to be within six feet of each other. The Georgia Department of Public Health has also mandated that all dining areas should be closed until further notice, and take out, drive-thru, or delivery options should be used by restaurants.
Helen City Attorney Carl Free said state Public Health is in charge of enforcing the order for restaurants, but it is his understanding that if a business is able to keep people six feet away from one another, they can have more than 10 people in the establishment.
The city’s emergency declaration, which was unanimously approved, falls in line with the governor’s executive order, while authorizing the Helen Police Department, Helen Fire Department and other necessary city employees to enforce the order. This includes the ability to close a businesses or other establishment not in compliance.
The ordinance is effective immediately and will be automatically repealed after 30 days of its adoption. Free added that it could be repealed earlier or extended, depending on the circumstances.
Prior to the governor’s order and the city’s emergency declaration, many Helen businesses already were adjusting to the COVID-19 situation. Alpine Helen/White County Georgia Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jerry Brown said tourism in Helen has been affected to the point where many businesses, including retail stores, restaurants, and hotels, have closed.
On Monday, March 23, the Helen Welcome Center officially closed its operations until further notice. Brown said they would continue to answer all correspondence (emails, social media messages, etc.), except for phone calls. He encouraged anyone with questions about whether a business is open to visit helenga.org and to check the business’ website to verify if they are still open.