The Brookhaven City Council March 16 unanimously approved an ordinance declaring a “state of emergency” in the city that calls for the immediate shutting down of local bars, restaurants and entertainment venues due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. Take-out and delivery options are still available, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance, which Mayor John Ernst said was the first such shutdown approved by a municipality in the state, was approved unanimously during an emergency teleconference meeting and is in effect until March 30. The council can extend the time period if it deems necessary. No questions were allowed from the media or public during the teleconference.

“These are unprecedented times and require unprecedented measures,” Ernst said. “This is the right thing to do to protect our citizens the best we can, and to listen to the science that has asked for social distancing to help slow the spread and flatten the curve so we do not overwhelm the healthcare system.”

City Councilmember Linley Jones asked that the ordinance include venues that provide entertainment to be included in the temporary shutdown. She did not give an example, but Councilmember Madeleine Simmons said the ordinance should include movie theaters that might stop selling food and beverages but remain open to allow people to see movies. The amendment was approved.

“I think this is the best thing for everyone and I hope it prompts surrounding municipalities to do the same,” Simmons said.

Ernst also announced that city playgrounds and outdoor courts were also being closed to the public.

Brookhaven is the first city known to have a city employee test positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended March 15 that all public and private events with 50 or more people should be canceled for the next eight weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The recommendation came the same day that the city of Atlanta announced a ban on public gatherings of 250 or more people. “This recommendation is not intended to supersede the advice of local public health officials,” the CDC said.

“We are going to get through this,” said Jones. “We are doing our best as the mayor and council based on the best information we receive from the World Health Organization and CDC.”

Councilmember John Park was named interim mayor pro tempore because the current position-holder, Councilmember Joe Gebbia, was out of town. The mayor pro tem serves as mayor when the incumbent is unavailable.

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Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.