Schools, businesses close amid public-health emergencies
Georgia is in a state of emergency as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, shutting down schools, large gatherings, sporting events and businesses around the country and locally.
There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hart County as of press time.
However, local officials are taking a proactive stance, closing schools, offices and extra-curricular activities.
The number of confirmed cases in Georgia reached 146 as of Tuesday with one death reported, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. While 46 percent of the Georgia cases infected people ages 18 to 59, 40 percent of the cases infected those ages 60 and older, the demographic most vulnerable to severe complications from the virus, health officials say. One percent of cases have infected people aged 0-17 and 13 percent of the cases are of unknown age. Men and women are being infected nearly equally with 49 percent of cases in Georgia infecting females and 51 percent infecting males.
The one death reported in Georgia was a 67-year-old man with “underlying medical conditions,” Governor Brian Kemp said at the time.
“The World Health Organization estimates a 21.9 percent mortality rate for those over eighty who are infected with COVID-19, and there is a significant risk that individuals who seem healthy could visit a facility and unintentionally endanger residents. As such, it is critical that we take these precautions to protect the frail and elderly. We ask all members of the public who have loved ones residing in a long-term care facility to remain patient. A temporary restriction on visitation is critical in the fight to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the health and safety of our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” Kemp said Monday after urging long-term care facilities in Georgia to restrict all visitors, volunteers, and non-essential personnel except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end-of-life situations, to protect their residents from the potential spread of the virus.
The CDC is recommending groups cancel any in-person events with 50 or more people be canceled for the next eight weeks, due to the possibility of spreading the virus further at large gatherings.
The virus has been named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”), according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Hart County students will be out of class until at least March 27, Superintendent Jay Floyd announced Sunday after Georgia was declared a public health state of emergency by Kemp on Saturday. Kemp on Monday then ordered all schools in the state closed until March 31.
Teachers locally have been preparing online learning packages this week, according to a release from the school system, and the school system is providing meals to children under 18 free of charge. Also, the Hart County High School prom scheduled for March 28 will be postponed and rescheduled.
Kemp declared the state’s first-ever public health state of emergency following President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, freeing up more federal aid to help with the response to this novel form of coronavirus.
If you develop fever with cough and shortness of breath, or if you have had contact with someone who is suspected to have COVID-19, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) says to stay home and call your healthcare provider. Call ahead before going to a doctor’s office, emergency room, or urgent care center and tell them about your symptoms, DPH spokesperson Dave Palmer said.
Palmer confirmed five cases were reported in District 2 as of press time, three in Hall County and two in Forsyth County.
“District Public Health epidemiology is working to identify and notify any close contacts who may have been exposed to COVID-19,” Palmer said in a press release.
Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the following counties as of Tuesday: Fulton (33), Cobb (25), Dekalb (15) Bartow (10), Cherokee (7), Dougherty (6), Fayette (5), Clayton (4), Gwinnett (7), Floyd (6), Clarke (3), Lowndes (4), Gordon (2), Coweta (3), Lee (2), Henry (2), Troup (2), Hall (1), Polk (1), Paulding (1), Charlton (1), Newton (1), Barrow (1), Columbia (1), Rockdale (1), Richmond (1) and Forsyth (1).
There are 4,226 confirmed cases in the U.S. with 75 total deaths, according to the CDC as of Tuesday. Globally, COVID-19 has infected more than 167,000 people and has caused more than 6,000 deaths, according to the WHO.
Georgia’s price gouging statutes were activated upon the state of emergency declaration, according to a release from the state attorney general Chris Carr’s office. While the State of Emergency remains in effect, businesses may not charge more for products and services identified by the Governor than they charged before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the increased prices accurately reflect an increase in the cost of new stock or the cost to transport it, plus the retailer’s average markup percentage applied during the ten days immediately prior to the declaration of the state of emergency.
State government and Georgia State Capitol will remain open at this time, Kemp announced March 12. However, nonessential travel is suspended and tele-work policies for most state employees have been implemented.
Businesses are taking precautions as well. Hart EMC closed its lobby to customers, but its drive-thru will remain open and members can conduct business through telephone, the website and the app.
SMALL BUSINESS SUPPORT
Multiple states, including California and Illinois, ordered restaurants and bars to close to help slow the spread of the virus, according to the Associated Press. While many folks will be isolated at home, this can put a burden on small businesses that rely on daily foot-traffic, but there is help.
Resources for local merchants are available through the Main Street Program and the Small Business Development Center at 770-531-5681.
The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering designated states and territories low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the novel coronavirus.
Hartwell Economic and Community Development Director Jason Ford said people can help local merchants by buying gift cards now for later use; buying items now for later pick-up; keeping memberships current; and if you know a business owner ask how you can support them.
Local law enforcement and emergency services are reacting to the outbreak as well.
Hartwell Police Chief Anthony Davis said his department is not doing anything different other than extra sanitation and trying to do less traffic stops, but they still have to respond to calls, make arrests and write tickets when necessary.
Hart County Sheriff Mike Cleveland echoed those sentiments and said the county jail is indefinitely restricting visitations to employees and inmates only. Cleveland said his department still has to make arrests and write tickets when necessary.
Hart County Emergency Management Agency Director Terrell Partain said access to facilities will be limited to staff and essential members of the department. In the event of an emergency, Partain said you should still call 911 and an ambulance will respond if requested. Partain said if you have an emergency and choose to drive to an EMS station, stay in your vehicle and dial 911. This will provide crew members time to adequately prepare themselves with the personal protective equipment suited to your emergency. However, Partain requested residents not to drive to substations for help because there is not always personnel there.
Additional screening questions could be asked by dispatchers, depending on the type of emergency, to identify potential COVID-19 patients, Partain said. Questions could include whether or not you have traveled out of the country recently, or if you have been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. Partain said not to be alarmed and that this is normal procedure.
Partain is asking his staff to wear street-clothes to work, change into their uniform at work, change and shower after incidents, then shower after shift and change into street clothes before going home in order to protect their families.
“That’s what people in this business worry about more than anything else. They don’t worry about themselves, they worry about their family,” Partain said.
Emergency services are also taking added sanitation measures in addition to their normal sanitation procedures.
Partain said the Hart County Senior Center will probably close. Normal attendees will be notified of the closure via phone.
“We will make preparations for the ones who need the meals,” Partain said.
Residents will be allowed to drive by the Senior Center to pick up meals, Partain said. Meals can be delivered to those who normally are transported, if requested.
Transit will be limited to essential travel such as to doctor’s appointments and grocery store trips, Partain said.
The county is attempting to convert its permitting process to online so that people do not have to come into the office to receive permits, such as building permits. The goal is that they will be able to visit the county’s website to request permits. The process should be completed in the next couple of days, Partain said.
The Hart County Board of Commissioners scheduled a special called meeting for Wednesday, March 18, after press deadlines.
Hartwell’s city hall will be closed to the general public, but city services will still be available. Officials ask that any contact with city services be made through email or phone and that bills be paid through the drive-through deposit drop or online at www.hartwell-ga.info or by telephone at 866-239-6928.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton declared a judicial state of emergency, closing all courts and clerk’s offices in the state for all nonessential functions.
The Northern Judicial Circuit, which comprises Hart, Elbert, Franklin, Madison and Oglethorpe counties, has likewise entered an order declaring a judicial emergency, according to a press release. The order is effective immediately and extends to April 13. All civil and criminal juries, and grand juries, are continued. All scheduled civil and criminal jury trials are continued. All civil and criminal hearings are continued, with limited exceptions that include hearings for temporary protective orders, initial bond hearings and other emergencies as deemed such by the assigned judge. Trials, hearings and grand jury sessions affected by the order shall be rescheduled and heard at a later date.
Northern Judicial Circuit officials also recommend all communications with the courts be by phone or email.
The Superior Court judges will be available to consider emergency matters.
The order applies to Superior Courts, State Courts, Magistrate Courts, Probate Courts, Juvenile Courts and Municipal Courts of the Northern Judicial Circuit.
The Centers for Disease Control says there is currently no vaccine available for the new coronavirus. However, the first vaccine testing happened on Monday in Seattle Washington.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals, according to the CDC. Animal coronaviruses rarely infect people and then spread between people such as with MERS-CoV , SARS-CoV and now with the new SARS-CoV-2.
The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, according to the CDC, between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.