Residents asked to shelter in place
A local emergency declaration passed by the Hart County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night in response to the COVID-19 pandemic reaches beyond Gov. Brian Kemp’s executive order for the “medically fragile” to isolate themselves and asks all county residents to stay at home except for essential trips as Georigia sees a rapidly increasing number of cases.
The declaration passed unanimously at a more than two-hour long emergency called meeting held at the Hart County Courthouse March 24 where local government leaders from Haartwell and other municipalities gathered to discuss the issue in a setting where they could adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Under the declaration, which went into effect at noon on Wednesday and expires at 11:59 p.m. on April 6, individuals who go outdoors or into shared spaces must maintain proper social distancing of six feet away from others. The document also urges residents to only leave their homes for essential activities, to operate essential businesses or to perform essential government functions, all of which are defined in the declaration.
All non-essential businesses are required to “cease all activities at facilities located within the county except minimum basic operations” unless the company can maintain social distancing guidelines of keeping less than 10 people, including employees, in the building at once while staying six feet apart from each other.
Essential businesses are encouraged to stay open and comply with social distancing policies “to the greatest extent feasible.”
Restaurants are permitted to be open only for delivery or carry-out only. Schools or other entities providing free food may continue to do so, but the food can not be eaten at the site it is provided or any other gathering place.
Essentially, no businesses in the county are required to close unless they can not maintain proper social distancing, defined as maintaining a minimum of six feet away from other individuals, washing hands with soap and water as frequently as possible or using hand sanitizer, covering coughs or sneezes, regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces and not shaking hands.
“I just don’t want to see a non-essential business be forced to shut down when they can comply with the 10 and six rule,” board of commissioners chairman Joey Dorsey said at Tuesday’s meeting. “I just want to make sure we protect all our small businesses the best we can.”
All public and private gatherings of more than 10 people located outside of a residence are prohibited under the county’s declaration.
Local leaders encouraged self-policing of these policies, but the declaration also empowers the Hart County Sheriff’s Office and agents with the Hart County Board of Health to cite businesses or individuals “deemed to be in violation with any provision” of the declaration. Health officials could go as far as suspending various permits of businesses in violation.
Any individual who has been tested for COVID-19 is required to remain in their home until the declaration expires or until they receive confirmation of negative results. Those individuals are permitted to travel for healthcare visits.
“They’re (residents) expecting something from our local leadership to take a stance and provide some kind of security for these folks so that they will have some kind of assurance that we’re trying to do something,” commissioner Marshall Sayer said at the meeting. “It may not be perfect, we’ve all got our own opinions. I’m glad to see this group here and that we’re trying to do something.”
Hartwell Mayor Brandon Johnson told The Hartwell Sun on Tuesday that city employees have been maintaining social distancing by staggering shifts and allowing people to work from home when possible. He said the city council did not feel the need to enact stricter guidelines than what the state and federal governments ordered.
Kemp issued an executive order Monday night that effectively closes all bars and nightclubs, while banning large gatherings of 10 or more people “unless you can maintain at least six feet between people at all times.” The order expires at 12 p.m. on April 6.
“The Department of Public Health will be empowered to close any business, establishment, nonprofit, or organization for noncompliance,” Kemp said.
The DPH issued guidance for restaurants throughout the state on Tuesday. COVID-19 is considered an “imminent health hazard” by the DPH and “because of this, and in order to protect members of the public, dining areas should be closed until further notice. Take out, drive-thru, delivery, or third-party delivery options should be the only means by which consumers can obtain food,” according to the statement released from the DPH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture are unaware of any reports that suggest the novel coronavirus can be transmitted by food or food packaging.
Kemp said, at minimum, the order to isolate and shelter in place applies to those who live in a long-term care facility, have chronic lung disease, are undergoing cancer treatment, have a positive COVID-19 test, are suspected to have COVID-19 because of their symptoms and exposure, or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
“We are all part of this solution. If your friends, neighbors, or local organizations are not complying, call them out, or report them to us,” Kemp said. “If an establishment isn’t following these directives, take your business elsewhere.”
CASES STILL ON RISE
The novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, continues to spread throughout Georgia, infecting 1,097 people in the state, causing 38 deaths and sending 361 to the hospital as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Georgia DPH.
There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Hart County as of Tuesday, but there are 79 confirmed cases where the patient’s county of residence is listed as “unknown,” according to the DPH. A case was confirmed in neighboring Madison County and two were confirmed in Stephens County as well. Neighboring Anderson County, S.C., had reported 16 cases as of March 24.
Drive-through testing sites for COVID-19 are now available in each of the state’s public health districts, and the state is prioritizing patients who need tests the most during this pandemic, according to a statement from the DPH. The closest to Hartwell are in Gainesville and Athens. Residents must receive a referral from a medical provider to be tested. Kemp said tests are limited to elderly Georgians, members of the law enforcement community, first responders, long-term care facility residents and staff and healthcare workers.
More than 5,400 tests have been administered in the state as of the Tuesday 7 p.m. status report, according to the DPH.
People who do not have symptoms of COVID-19 do not need to be tested, according to a statement from Kemp last week, and most people who are mildly or moderately ill with “cold-like” symptoms do not need to be tested.
To contain COVID-19, officials encourage people who are sick with mild respiratory symptoms, such as fever and cough, to stay home and isolate themselves from others for at least seven days after their symptoms begin or 72 hours after their fever has resolved and symptoms have improved.
If you have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, you must self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms, according to the statement.
There is no evdience virus can infect you through food, according to new CDC guidance.
The guidance encourages people to order take out or delivery if eating at restaurants.