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Georgia governor weighs `new options' amid virus backlash

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is “considering new options” amid criticism from local officials for his order that reversed beach closures and other restrictions imposed by cities and counties to battle the coronavirus, the governor's spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Kemp's executive order last week requiring Georgia residents to shelter at home, except under prescribed exceptions, drew an outcry from some city and county leaders for a provision that rolled back any tougher restrictions already imposed by local governments. Those nullified restrictions included local decisions to close public beaches on the 100-mile (160 kilometer) Georgia coast.

Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions over the weekend blasted Kemp's action as a “reckless mandate” that encouraged tourism as infections and deaths keep rising in Georgia. In Glynn County, where the state had reopened the beach on St. Simons Island, elected county Chairman Michael Browning sent Kemp a letter Monday saying: "this is the time to be tightening restrictions that combat the spread of this disease, not loosening them.”

Georgia Department of Natural Resources law enforcement division Corporal Barry Britt, foreground, and DNR Game Warden Chandler Hamrick patrol Tybee Island, Ga., beaches on ATVs after Gov. Bryan Kemp signed an executive order allowing people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least six feet because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Stephen B. MortonAtlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The Republican governor's order expires April 14, though he could choose to extend it. Kemp's spokeswoman, Candice Broce, said Tuesday complaints from local officials have not been ignored.

“We hear their concerns, and we are considering new options to help those communities,” Broce said in an email to The Associated Press. “We are in unprecedented times, and the data changes hourly. We are constantly getting input from federal, state, and local leaders in public health, emergency management, and government to do what’s right for Georgia."

It wasn't immediately clear if Broce was referring to beach communities or the concerns of local governments in general. She gave no further details as to what options Kemp's office was weighing.

A Tybee Island, Ga., resident uses her phone to text a friend near the pier on the south side of Tybee beach while wearing a handmade mask Saturday, April 4, 2020. On Friday, Gov. Bryan Kemp opened the state's outdoor space by signing an executive order that allows people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least six feet because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Stephen B. MortonAtlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Before issuing his executive order Thursday, Kemp had given local officials broad leeway in deciding how best to restrict freedoms to keep the virus from spreading. As of Tuesday, the new virus was blamed for 329 deaths and more than 8,800 infections statewide.

Since Kemp's order took effect Friday, Georgia state troopers and officers from the state Department of Natural Resources have patrolled beaches to enforce social distancing requirements. In addition, people have been prohibited from bringing lounge chairs, umbrellas, and other gear to the beaches, which Kemp has said were opened for fresh air and exercise.

Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Georgia State Patrol Capt. Thornell King, bottom right, watches visitors to Tybee Island, Ga., beach after Gov. Bryan Kemp signed an executive order allowing people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least six feet because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Stephen B. MortonAtlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division Corporal Barry Britt, right, enforces Gov. Bryan Kemp's order to open the beaches on Tybee Island, Ga., Saturday, April 4, 2020, allowing people to exercise outside, with social distancing of at least six feet because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Stephen B. MortonAtlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)