First cases hit Hart

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Businesses, individuals take precautions

  • Sunshot by Michael Hall -- Darius Hunt, left, brings in carts from the parking lot at Quality Foods in Hartwell on Tuesday, March 31, as Kelsie Dean, right, cleans them to disinfect them as part of the store’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Sunshot by Michael Hall -- Darius Hunt, left, brings in carts from the parking lot at Quality Foods in Hartwell on Tuesday, March 31, as Kelsie Dean, right, cleans them to disinfect them as part of the store’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Hart County joined the growing number of counties in Georgia infected by the novel coronavirus as the first four cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county over the past week, coming on the heels of President Donald Trump declaring Georgia as a major disaster area due to the impacts of the virus.

Around Hart County, the response continues, with grocery stores manning the carts to wipe them down with disinfectant before allowing customers to use them. Businesses considered non-essential are closed or adhering to social distancing requirements and restaurant dining rooms are closed, only serving food through takeout or delivery. Those are measures included in a local declaration of emergency the Hart County Board of Commissioners approved on March 24. 

As of the 7 p.m. status report on Tuesday, March 31, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported four cases of COVID-19 infecting patients whose residence is in Hart County. Surrounding counties are being hit too, with Franklin and Stephens each reporting four cases, while Madison County is reporting three infected residents and one death. There were still no reported cases in Elbert County.

The Department of Public Health is not reporting any general information about infected patients, including age, occupation or city of residence, District 2 spokesperson Dave Palmer confirmed this week. When a confirmed positive case is reported, the DPH’s epidemiologist contacts the person who has tested positive and then notifies other people who may have come in contact with them and gives them instructions based on their level of exposure. If a contact is experiencing symptoms, they may be tested and told to self-isolate.

The DPH does list limited information about deaths from the virus. In nearby Madison County, a 71-year-old man with underlying health conditions died.

SCHOOL STILL OUT

Students won’t be in school classrooms until at least the end of the month and they won’t have to worry about statewide tests. Gov. Brian Kemp ordered school closures to be extended to April 24, while state school officials took steps to nix final exam requirements, such as Milestone tests, and relax other state and federal accountability rules. Hart County students will continue completing work packets and electronic learning assignments until school presumably resumes on Monday, April 27, the school system announced. Registrations for pre-k and kindergarten have been postponed.

The school district’s distribution of meals will continue and meals can be picked up at elementary schools between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. during the week. Families in need of delivery are asked to contact Courtney Hart, who can be reached at 706-856-7294. 

MAJOR DISASTER

Kemp announced on Sunday that a major disaster was declared for all 159 counties in Georgia by President Donald Trump due to the impacts of the virus. The federal disaster declaration will allow federal agencies to provide direct assistance to Georgia. 

Emergency Protective Measures, actions taken to eliminate or lessen immediate threats to lives, public health or safety, are covered under the declaration for federal assistance.

More than 100 National Guardsmen will be deployed over the next few weeks to any long-term care facility, assisted living facility or nursing home, with COVID-19 cases, Kemp and Georgia National Guard Adjutant General Tom Carden announced Tuesday.

Carden said the Georgia National Guard is ready to assist “through staff training and implementation of infectious disease control measures.”

This assignment is the first of several missions based on close cooperation with the Georgia National Guard, Department of Public Health, Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency, Georgia Health Care Association, and Georgia Center for Assisted Living.

DISTANCING ENFORCEMENT

Kemp also announced on Sunday that social distancing requirements, not gathering with more than 10 people unless you can maintain six feet apart, will be enforced by the state’s Department of Natural Resources at Georgia parks and lakes. Kemp said “people are eager for a change in scenery after days at home” and are beginning to travel, go outdoors and head to vacation homes.

“The Department of Natural Resources will enforce the executive order limiting large gatherings with officials patrolling bodies of water and campgrounds. They are monitoring coves where people tend to congregate and, if necessary, using bullhorns to tell people to comply with the order. Officials will approach people in violation of the order and demand compliance for the well-being of our citizens and state,” Kemp said.

AREA HOSPITALS

Hospitals on the frontlines of combatting the virus are tightening down through policy changes during this epidemic. AnMed Health in Anderson, S.C., is restricting visitations at hospital campuses, the Emergency Department, and outpatient facilities to just three situations; end-of-life situations, labor and delivery and pediatric patients. Those patients will be allowed only one visitor at a time, the hospital recently announced. Many entrances to the hospital will be closed and you may be asked to have your temperature taken or answer other questions before entering the hospital. Visitors with symptoms or possible exposure will be asked not to visit the facility. Anderson County, S.C., which neighbors Hart, reported 39 cases as of Tuesday and one death related to COVID-19, according to the state’s health department.

St. Mary’s Health Care System is urging everyone in Northeast Georgia to take precautions to protect themselves, their families and especially the most vulnerable, from contracting the virus. Visitations will be limited at St. Mary’s facilities to only one visitor at a time per patient, and no one under 14 or who is sick is permitted to visit.

VEHICLE REGISTRATIONS

Georgians who haven’t renewed their automobile tags, but are due, don’t need to worry yet. The Georgia Department of Revenue’s Motor Vehicle Division announced it is extending vehicle registrations for residents that would expire on or after March 16. The MVD is automatically extending those registrations through and including Friday, May 15. More information is available at dor.georgia.gov/motor-vehicles.

NUMBERS STILL RISING

The number of deaths statewide rose to 125 as of Tuesday’s twice-daily status report from the GPDH. A total of 4,117 Georgians have tested positive for COVID-19, while 885 of those residents have been hospitalized due to the virus. Commercial labs have tested 14,260 people in the state, while the Georgia Public Health Lab has administered 1,921 tests.

The peak for the number of coronavirus infections in Georgia is predicted to occur the week of April 22, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The research institute projects Georgia will face a shortage of 755 ICU beds at the peak of the virus.

Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are common symptoms of the virus that may occur 2-14 days after exposure, according to the CDC.

If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, such as trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse or bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately, the CDC advises.