Helen tells visitors to leave; shuts down tourist-centric businesses

City of Helen (Facebook)

The City of Helen is closing its doors. Literally. The city commission held an emergency meeting today and voted to close the town’s hotels and motels and short term vacation rentals.

Guests currently lodging in Helen must leave by noon tomorrow, April 1, under the order. The order excludes workers who are staying in the area to provide essential services.

Helen commissioners also voted to close other tourist-related businesses including amusement centers, horse and carriage rides, outdoor commerical day-use picnic areas, and “Any and all other businesses not listed as being permitted to remain open.”

On March 24, Helen commissioners declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s order expands the restrictions listed in that original order.

Now, all Helen city parks, public areas, and playgrounds are closed. Large outdoor recreation areas such as golf courses may remain open as long as they enfordce social distancing guidelines. People may continue to use Helen’s public sidewalks for walking and exercise as long as they, too, stay at least six- feet apart.

Helen’s strict new restrictions come at a time of heightened concern among many local officials and residents. They’re worried that tourists from areas with higher infection rates may spread the coronavirus disease in their communities.

COVID-19 infection rates in Northeast Georgia – outside of Hall and Athens-Clarke Counties – remain relatively low. And while many expect the numbers to trend upwards, officials in White County are trying to keep them as low as possible by cracking down on tourism.

Not all Helen businesses are closed. Restaurants, grocery and convenience stores, gas stations, banks, pharmacies, sanitation services, and other businesses that are considered essential are still allowed to operate.

Businesses and individuals who violate the order may face up to a $1,000 fine and or 30 days in jail or up to 60 days of community service, according to the city code.

View the full order here

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