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August 2020
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City, county plan reopening Concern expressed as higher case numbers still expected

With Governor Brian Kemp re-opening some business categories and relaxing restrictions this week, local officials were scrambling Monday and Tuesday to see how that would apply here.

During a Monday Zoom conference of area public safety officials, Jasper Mayor Steve Lawrence, Commission Chair Rob Jones and Sheriff Donnie Craig all commented how they would need to watch what came out of Atlanta and be ready to react.

The city and county issued a joint statement Tuesday, which re-hashed much of the governor’s statement and applied some aspects of it to the local situation. That statement can be found in its entirety on Page 3A.

On Monday Commissioner Jones expressed concern that the governor’s opening later this week appears to coincide with previous information showing that is also when the surge is expected in north Georgia.

“Hopefully they will let us know more [out of Atlanta],” Jones said. “We don’t know what these numbers will do. I believe when we start testing, the numbers will go up. It’s putting us in a catch 22 -- danged if you do, danged if you don’t [in regards to re-opening].”

In a Q & A with Piedmont Mountainside Denise Ray (see article on continued page), she noted, “Our current modeling shows the regional COVID peak to be between the end of April and early May. This model can change quickly if individuals do not follow recommendations surrounding shelter in place or forego social distancing precautions.”

Lawrence, during the meeting, expressed that he was concerned at that point in seeing that whatever is done is joint between the city and county and follows the state as well. He noted that if the city/county enact something or opened something then the governor changes his mind on which direction to go, “we’d be out in the cold by ourselves.”

Officials on the call expressed concern that the shuttering of businesses is taking a toll on local bank accounts and businesses, saying they really need to do whatever they can to help the businesses.

Sheriff Craig said he had already seen some businesses announcing they were re-opening in the coming days well ahead of the governor’s statement. 

Among other issues discussed:

• Fire Chiefs and EMA reported that they are “holding steady” with their supplies and not facing any immediate shortages.

• A 911 center employee has been tested for COVID-19 but the results were not available by press time. County Fire Chief Sloan Elrod said late last week, this could be a real problem if coronavirus were to turn up in the communications center.

• The sheriff and commissioner have repeatedly discussed why there are no testing facilities in Pickens County and if there is some way they might could address this shortcoming “in-house.” They noted there is testing in Ellijay, but only during limited hours, and testing in Cherokee County. They planned to meet to see if there is anything they could do. Jones questioned even if they could test here, could they get the tests read and returned in a timely manner? The sheriff said they are seeing testing take anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours to more than a week to get results.

Mt. Zion Church, which regularly hosts a drive-by flu shot clinic, has offered their location that has been shown to work in the past.

Regarding the lack of local testing, Jones said, “It appears that Pickens got skipped.”

• The latest state numbers show that there are 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pickens County with two deaths. Jones said they wish they had access to better information on where these cases were and where they had been to better identify how the spread is occurring.

“We only have the two deaths. That has not changed thank goodness,” he said. “I guess at this time we don’t know [who the positive tests] are. So we can’t know how it might start escalating.”

Following the teleconference, Kris Stancil, sheriff public information officer, said  that they have been told that with more testing coming, the numbers of confirmed cases will rise, but the key is to look at the hospitalizations and deaths. It’s long been thought that many more people have likely contracted the coronavirus but the effects were so mild they never went for testing so the numbers remained low. Now with more testing, we’ll see higher number officially recorded but that won’t necessarily mean it is spreading more than previously thought.