On Mother’s Day, shortly after the governor of Georgia lifted his statewide shelter-at-home order for most Georgians, David Schulman spotted a group of his neighbors gathered around an ice-cream truck parked near a playground in his Sandy Springs condo community.
“What really amazed me was there was nobody wearing masks, nobody standing 6 feet apart,” he said. It looked like little had changed from the days before the world stopped in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, there were too many people around,” Schulman said. “It went against the governor’s guidelines.”
Schulman, who’s 57, thought this crowd could and should have done a better job of following the rules set by the state. He saw little evidence that the group followed any of the state’s social distancing recommendations, even though a sign was posted nearby asking that residents “please keep social distancing.”
He thought it seemed kind of bizarre. And it bothered him. “I’m taking the approach – I have from early, early on — that I try to minimize risk as much as possible,” he said.
Schulman didn’t report the gathering to local officials, but he said that when he went out to walk his dog, he took a few photos of the crowd, and later posted a comment on Facebook.
Others who have questions about recent social gatherings have contacted local authorities. Representatives of Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Dunwoody all said those city governments in April or May had received complaints — not many, but a few — about people who are not following the state guidelines for public gatherings or business closings.
Some complaints went to city officials through emails or public comment channels, such as city call centers, or cropped up on social media. Others went directly to police. City officials usually responded by checking out the size of the gathering and asking people to abide by the rules. Violation of the social distancing rules can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor, according to the governor’s order, but local city officials said they knew of no arrests for violations.
For the most part, Sandy Springs spokesperson Sharon Kraun said, people “are doing the right thing” when they get together, so there appear to be relatively few gatherings to complain about. “It’s really self-policing,” she said, “and folks are doing a good job with it.”
But if neighborhood gatherings don’t embrace social distancing rules, then residents themselves become the eyes of the community on social distancing enforcement. Neighborhood scolds who not so long ago might have been complaining on social media about school issues or cracked sidewalks now are replaced by folks raising red flags about too many kids playing in the park.
That puts some of us in an uncomfortable position. If you’re worried that too many people around an ice cream truck can be a breeding ground for coronavirus, then you’re put in the position of being the one who breaks up the party. That’s no fun. Who wants to be the neighbor who called the cops on kids eating ice cream?
“My biggest concern was that people weren’t taking this seriously,” Schulman said. “Pray to God there were no viruses spread. This is how it happens — just like in California, from a church, where somebody with the virus [attends] and that’s all it takes. I err on the side of caution and expect the community to do the same.”
He argues he shouldn’t have to force others to follow the rules. It’s a community issue, he said, and we all have to look out for one another. Following the social distancing guidelines is nothing more than a way of politely acknowledging the concerns of other people who are worried about the spread of a deadly disease.
“To me, it’s very simple,” he said. “To do things a little more safely, with more respect for the neighbors.”
So, show a little respect. And, of course, remember to stand 6 feet apart and to wash your hands.
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.