Calling Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to reopen beaches statewide a "reckless mandate", Tybee Island's mayor questioned the actions as the state shelters in place under another directive from Kemp.
Tybee Island's beaches are a popular tourist destination for residents of Georgia and other visitors, especially as warm weather returns.
Mayor Shirley Sessions put restrictions in place, as did a number of other local municipalities, in March, just as the first coronavirus cases in the state were confirmed. At the time, Kemp put it to cities to announce social distancing and stay-at-home mandates.
Nearly a month later, Kemp's issued a statewide stay-at-home order that went into effect Friday. He also announced an executive order opening beaches up in the state to the public, a move that has led Sessions to denounce the decision.
"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 fine," Sessions said in a statement Saturday.
Now the state's death toll has topped 21o as of Sunday and more than 6,000 Georgians have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Kemp tweeted pictures of St. Simon's East Beach and other water masses in Georgia Saturday, stating residents were safely enjoying the beach with no problems reported by the Georgia Department of Public Safety or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
"There are roughly 150 people on the beaches at Tybee Island. The Department of Public Safety and Department of Natural Resources are patrolling the area and roads leading to the beaches to ensure compliance with the executive order. There are no issues to report at this time," the governor's Director of Communication Candice Broce told GPB News Sunday by email. " with the Mayor and explained how we stand ready to provide resources to ensure compliance with the order. "Throughout this process, Governor Kemp has been guided by the recommendations of Dr. Kathleen Toomey, public health officials in the private and public sectors, and emergency management officials to ensure the health and well-being of Georgians across our state. We continue to monitor the situation and deploy resources as needed."
While beaches must open under the governor's order Tybee Island will not have beach access and beach parking lots will closed until further notice, Sessions said in her statement. The mayor also warned residents that Tybee's beaches were not staffed with Emergency Medical services.
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson also expressed frustrations with the governor’s order. In a video posted to Facebook on April 3 he described the decision as “Dangerous, irresponsible and sad”.
“The governor decided to let cities kind of do their own thing…And so Savannah came up with remedies that we felt were right to protect Savannah,” Johnson said. “This order concerned me to use a nice word. Basically, all the businesses that we closed [are] back open.”
A day later, Tybee Island's mayor walked back some of her statements. “To be clear, we do not want to be obstinate or defiant to our governor," she said. "We respect that position, we respect his authority, but we just – we were elected to protect, government’s role is, number one, public safety. And we were elected by our community to provide the best public safety that we can. That’s really all we’re trying to do.”