Georgia governor opens beaches a day after issuing statewide stay-at-home order

Mitchell Willetts

Many Georgia beach communities decided to close down their waterfronts due to concerns over coronavirus, but under a statewide stay-at-home order issued Thursday, all beaches are opening back up -- whether the communities want to or not.

Several communities, including Tybee Island, had implemented local ordinances forbidding public access to their beaches, WJCL reported, but they are all superseded by Gov. Brian Kemp’s latest order.

The beaches reopened when the stay-at-home ordinance went into effect at 6 p.m. Friday, according to an administrative order signed by the Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Williams.

“The Governor’s Executive Order suspends the enforcement of any local ordinance or order adopted or issued since March 1, 2020, that relates to COVID-19,” said Josh Hildebrandt, director of public and governmental affairs for DNR. “This Executive Order thus lifted any local ordinances or orders that had closed or restricted access to Georgia beaches.”

Tybee state Rep. Jesse Petrea took to Facebook to address questions and concerns from constituents about the beach reopening.

“I understand that people are highly stressed now but the vitriol is unwarranted,” he said, adding that “At NO time have I advocated for ‘opening the beach.’”

Petrea said that although the beaches are reopening, social distancing will be enforced, no congregating is allowed, and Rangers will be on patrol to ensure rules are followed.

“We are inviting death to our doorsteps,” one commenter said. “Sheriff’s deputies can not even handle the misdemeanor acts right now. How do we expect sheriff deputies to patrol 3 miles of beach 24/7?”

Others were more supportive of the governor’s move.

“Don’t go to the beach if you don’t want to. But it’s perfectly safe for me to take a walk down the beach,” another commenter said. “It’s a three mile island. How hard can it be to police?”