Tybee Mayor Urges Governor To Close Beaches, Visitors To Stay Away

Apr 5, 2020

Coastal leaders are pushing back after the governor ordered Georgia beaches reopened Friday night.


State-owned beaches may be open, but Tybee city officials aren't removing barriers from the city-owned beach access points and parking lots. 


In a weekend tweet of an aerial photo, Governor Brian Kemp said beachgoers were mostly locals. 


But Tybee Mayor Shirley Sessions said on the island, she saw visitors from coronavirus hotspots like New York. And she’s worried about the upcoming holiday.  


"We're getting phone calls from Florida saying, 'Are y'all gonna be open for the Easter weekend, cause we're planning to come up there,'” Sessions said. “And my answer has been, 'Don't come. Please wait until we're safe.'" 


The state Department of Natural Resources banned beach chairs, tents and umbrellas, and sent rangers to the beach to enforce those rules.


“There were quite a number of people who did that in spite of the order. And there were several instances of very close social gathering that social distancing was not — was not being adhered to,” Sessions said.


The city may pursue a legal challenge if Kemp does not close state beaches, according to the mayor.


“We have a very high risk community,” Sessions said, citing the older year-round population and the island’s two nursing homes. She also noted that Tybee has only one small grocery store, no hospitals and only one road on and off the island. 


A Tybee Island police officer has tested positive for COVID-19, and nine others have been quarantined as of Saturday evening. In a statement, the city said police have enough staff to cover shifts during the quarantine. The department has also asked the Georgia State Patrol for assistance.