A couple walks past the marquee of the Georgia Theatre Friday, March 20, 2020, in Downton Athens, Ga. A note posted on the theatre's door says they are close and all shows are postponed. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA (AP) — The association that advocates for Georgia's 538 cities urged all of them Tuesday to impose restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus such as ordering overnight curfews and closing down gyms, movie theaters and other businesses.

The Georgia Municipal Association weighed in as new a new order by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp took affect that shuts down bars and nightclubs, prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people and orders people who are most at risk of illness or might have been exposed to shelter at home.

Kemp has favored letting local governments decide whether to require stricter limitations. His statewide actions fall short of those issued in most other states, despite pressure from some lawmakers and health experts for tougher measures.

The threat the new virus poses to Georgia's economy and health care system "is far greater if stringent measures aren't put in place across the state to slow the spread of this virus," Dublin Mayor Phil Best, the municipal association's president, said in a news release.

The virus causes only minor flu-like symptoms in most people, who recover in a matter of weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be deadly in some, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems. Severe cases are often only able to breathe with respirators, stressing the health care system's capacity to respond.

At least 800 infections of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have been confirmed statewide, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The virus has been linked to 26 deaths in Georgia, and although testing remains limited, infections have been reported in at least 70 of Georgia's 159 counties.

The association's model ordinance would impose nightly curfews from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., allow only takeout or delivery orders from restaurants, and shut down gyms, theaters, salons, social clubs and other businesses.

Some local governments including Atlanta, Albany and surrounding Dougherty County, and Athens-Clark County have already adopted restrictions that go beyond those ordered by Kemp statewide. Savannah Mayor Van Johnson on Tuesday said he was imposing stay-at-home restrictions in the coastal city beginning Wednesday.

"While Governor Kemp's executive actions announced yesterday addressed some of the critical needs in our state, I do not feel that it goes far enough in ensuring the health and safety of our citizens," Johnson told a news conference Tuesday.

Democrats in the state House also signed a letter to Kemp urging stronger restrictions.

"We must be proactive in the fight against this 'invisible enemy' and protect our citizens," Democrats wrote in a letter posted by House Minority Leader Bob Trammell.


Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia.