County bans short-term rentals, road closures not an option

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Emergency response officials say the county is braced for COVID-19

  • Rabun County Courthouse
    Rabun County Courthouse
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CLAYTON--Meeting for perhaps the first time ever on a Saturday evening, the Rabun County Board of Commissioners sought to address rising public concerns about the local response to the COVID-19 health emergency last night.

One by one, county department heads responsible for disaster preparations were invited to the microphone to give a report to commissioners and the hundreds of people watching at home on a live video stream over social media.

Officials from Mountain Lakes Medical Center also made a report.

The consensus was that the county is about as prepared as it can be to meet the COVID-19 crisis at this time.

As of 7 p.m. March 28, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 in Rabun County. Testing involves collecting samples from those whose prior screening indicates they might have the virus. But actual testing takes place at an outside lab. The backlog for getting results is now about a week. Several local patients still have not learned the result of their tests and remain under self-quarantine at home.

The public was asked not to attend the meeting, which was declared an emergency session in which normal open meetings requirements do not apply.

County Commission Chairman Greg James said the meeting was necessary to address public concerns. Local officials have been deluged with calls and emails since the crisis began.

“There’s a lot of hysteria out there,” James said. “We don’t want you to have anxiety or worry. We want to get the facts out there.”

Commissioners said they received many inquiries about closing Rabun County roadways to outside traffic during the crisis.

Both County Administrator Darrin Giles and County Attorney Allyn Stockton said the commissioners don’t have legal jurisdiction over state and federal highways.

“You can’t shut down (those) roads unless the governor makes the call,” Giles said.

Other concerns have been expressed about the number of people visiting local state parks and national forest areas from areas that have already seen cases of COVID-19.

Rabun County Sheriff Chad Nichols said only Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has the authority to close state parks.

Nichols asked the governor to close down the three state parks in Rabun County in a phone call last week, but they remain open at press time.

Ryane Foote, District Ranger for the Chattooga River Ranger District, told commissioners no trails in Rabun County were closed as of Saturday evening, although some popular trails in White County have been shuttered temporarily because of the high number of visitors they normally attract.

Foote said he is assessing all national forest trails and their usage over the weekend, and more may be closed next week.

Commissioners extended the closure of all county facilities until April 6.

They also agreed to add a ban or short-term rentals (less than 30 days) during the crisis, and a request that anyone arriving in the county from other areas observe a voluntary 14-day quarantine period.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet again Tuesday evening.