The City of LaGrange hosted a second online roundtable discussion Monday morning to update the local citizens on measures being taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak.
During the meeting, District 4 Public Health Director Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo noted that Troup County currently had four confirmed cases of COVID-19, but there was another being tested that appears to be likely and two more pending. He noted that by the end of the day there could be up to seven confirmed cases.
As coronavirus cases continue to rise, officials continue to ask people to stay home when possible and socially distance themselves from others to reduce transmission of the disease.
“The vaccine —the treat-ment— for the outbreak at this time is social distancing. I cannot over emphasize that,” said Dr. Obasanjo.
Obasanjo repeatedly emphasized the importance of social distancing as a measure to protect oneself and others.
“Social distancing is the key to controlling the virus at the point we are now,” said Obasanjo.
“The handwashing and everything else we are talking about —without social distancing— it’s of little to no effect. In fact, it may work against you,” he warned. “If you are handwashing, it gives you a false sense of security and might make you more likely to have contact with others.”
Another concern on everyone’s minds is when, and if, schools are going to reopen.
Troup County School Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate noted that they expect to make a decision about the schools reopening soon, but are waiting to see what the state recommends.
The school system originally closed schools for two weeks, before Governor Brian Kemp ordered schools closed throughout March, effectively adding two school days to the closure.
“We fully expect the governor’s office may make a statement this week maybe extending that deadline out to sometime in April. We’re not sure yet. So it’s still up in the air. We will know more as the week progresses,” said Shumate.
Shumate noted that as schools are closed, they are continuing to provide sack lunches and breakfasts for the next day via school busses and for pickup at select locations. He said that on Friday they served over 2,000 kids.
Along with the food, school system is continuing to provide online and printed educational resources. Teachers are interacting with their students though the internet via Google Hangouts and other means of communication.
For more information on how to receive these resources, check the school system’s website at troup.org. Questions can also be answered by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 706-812-7900.
Mayor Jim Thornton noted that he has gotten a lot of questions about what the current State of Emergency means and why aren’t they simply ordering businesses close as people continue to go out. He explained that the emergency declaration does give the city additional authority, but they have limited power. It mostly allows the city to move quickly during a crisis, such as being able to approve a local ordinance with only one reading, rather than the normally required two.
Thornton advised that the general power to handle issues like this is with the state governors, not with local municipalities or even the federal government.
“We’re all looking to the State for guidance here,” said Thornton.
“The City of LaGrange, as well as Hogansville, West Point, and the County, have all declared a State of Emergency, but we have not imposed a curfew yet. We have not imposed a quarantine. We have not shut down any private businesses,” advised Thornton. “I’m not saying we don’t have the authority to do that, but we don’t have nearly the authority that the Governor does. So we have been looking to the Governor for guidance.”
“We anticipate that the State may put out some revised guidelines and may make some additional orders, that we will enforce on a local level, obviously, because we are required to,” he said.
Troup County Chairman Patrick Crews noted that they have spoken about the issue, but the county isn’t currently seriously considering a curfew or quarantine.
The county has taken measures to protect employees at the government center by limiting entrants to 10 at a time. Entrants are also being screened with questions and having their temperature taken.
One big concern for the county is the upcoming election. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger previously postponed the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary to be held alongside the General Prim ary/Nonpartisan Election scheduled for May 19, 2020, but some are concerned that might not be long enough.
Crews said the County is considering absentee voting for everyone, but noted that the logistics of that would be difficult. Over 25,000 absentee ballots would need to be mailed out.
WellStar West Georgia President Coleman Foss was also on hand to give an update on the hospital.
Foss tried to ease some concerns over the hospital having the equipment it needs to continue care during the crisis. He advised that the hospital has reopened an older ICU to prepare for increased needs due to the outbreak. He also said they currently have plenty of ventilators, noting that only two of the hospital’s 19 ventilators are in use and those aren’t being used by COVID-19 patients.
Foss also said that of the seven confirmed and suspected coronavirus cases they have treated, only one has gotten seriously sick, but they appear to be in recovery since being transferred to another facility. The other six have gone home and seem to be okay.
The hospital currently has the masks, ventilators, and staff they need, but this will be a marathon, not a sprint, he noted.
“The best thing that the public can do for us is to stay home,” said Foss.
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Tommy Murphy Staff Writer