In a highly controversial development, the new shelter in place order from Ga. Gov. Brian Kemp — taking effect at 6 p.m. Friday — does in fact reopen the beaches at Tybee Island, at least for the time being.
The beaches had previously been closed by local order on March 20.
It sounds contradictory, but the governor's order explicitly overrides any local ordinance — and his order says the beaches can stay open as long as people observe social distancing and there are no large gatherings.
In a Facebook post Friday afternoon, Tybee area State Rep. Jesse Petrea attempted to clarify the situation and calm tempers:
"Early this AM, I notified [Tybee] Mayor Sessions that this would impact the beach in that it was not expressly closed in the new order. Indeed, I contacted the DNR Commissioner early this AM to understand the matter," Rep. Petrea writes.
"He explained that it would allow exercise on the beach by individuals/family groups but NO congregating. Moreover, he explained that Rangers were to be patrolling the beach to enforce strict social distancing."
Petrea goes on:
"I contacted the Mayor to advise of how to address the issue with the Governors office and the DNR. I then contacted he Governors office to explain the depth of concern that was likely to come from the issue due to spring break etc. I offered the Mayor and council members who I spoke with my support of local government and advised them to make a petition to the Governors office," he writes.
The state Department of Natural Resources — charged with oversight of Georgia's beaches, which are all public property by law — today issued a directive that no chairs, tents, or umbrellas would be allowed on the beach but not restricting access.
As of Friday evening, confusion reigned, with Tybee officials vowing to keep entrance to the beach closed off — since DNR's authority according to the strict letter of the law applies to the beach only, from high-tide to the water.
In a separate but relevant development, at least five Tybee Island police officers are reportedly in a quarantine situation due to exposure to the COVID-19 virus.