"We don't really know," said Dade Public Health's Lindsay Ryan, explaining that reporting labs may not have much information about where a patient lives, and that in any case results may take over a week to come in.
There are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dade County--but that's not as comforting as it sounds, according to officials at today's 3 p.m. Dade County coronavirus update.
"Everybody, I feel like, is getting wrapped up in these numbers," said Lindsay Ryan with the Dade Count Health Department. Yes, she said, Dade doesn't appear on the Georgia Department of Health COVID-19 daily status report, but: "If you scroll down to the bottom of that you see there is an 'Unknown,'" she said.
(Photo: Click on the image at right to go directly to Georgia's daily COVID report. )
There are 1247 cases reported now in the state as a whole, about a third of them hospitalized, and the death toll in Georgia was up to 40 at noon when the report was last updated. Of the 1247, 153 are listed as residents of an unknown county.
Ms. Ryan explained that Georgia has only one state lab for its 159 counties, so that many COVID-19 tests are analyzed at commercial labs which may have limited information about where a patient lives. Furthermore: "Labs are taking three to five days--I've heard even longer," she said. "That's a week old."
The conclusion? "So we don't really know," said Ms. Ryan.
She said that her office more usually deals with infectious diseases cases such as tuberculosis, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and that as in those illnesses, when a positive test does come in for COVID-19, the state epidemiologist's office is notified and it then alerts all individuals listed as contacts of the infected person.
In any case, instead of being lulled into complacency by the lack of reported cases, said Ms. Ryan: "Everybody needs to pretend like you're infected or that someone you're around is contagious," she said. "You just need to assume that. I don't want us to wait until we see numbers in our county to act on this."
She repeated the social distancing rules mandated by the state government--stay at least six feet from others, wash hands, stay home, and if you're an employer make sure no more than 10 workers gather in a place unless the six feet can be maintained from person to person and that they have ready access to soap, water and hand sanitizer. "If you feel like your employers aren't following this executive order, you do have a website you can go to, gov.georgia.gov," she said.
Ms. Ryan also addressed the impatience of residents about the difficulty of getting a COVID-19 test. "There's been a lot of concerns about people being tested," she said. "We don't see sick people so we never had these tests readily available, especially in mass quantities."
Right now, there just aren't that many tests, she said, and the ones the health department does have it is reserving for at-risk individuals and health care providers. That may sound selfish, she said, but: "If we don't take care of ourselves and our people, we cannot treat everyone at the same time," she said. "If we are out, then everybody else is out."
Ms. Ryan said northwest Georgia has two testing sites for the virus, one in Rome and the other in Cartersville, and that only individuals screened by their physician or through the state COVID-19 hotline may be seen there. That hotline is 1-844-442 2681.
County boss Ted Rumley, reading the day's numbers as he does every day at these 3 p.m. briefings, also discussed the haziness of the statistics. At least four people in Dade had been tested--probably more, because many go to private physicians--but the county has not been alerted as to results, said Rumley. "Unless they're positive, we don't know that," he said.
Rumley repeated the isolation-and-social distancing rules but had another warning: "If you're undergoing cancer treatment, stay at home." Anyone undergoing radiation therapy or chemo is automatically more vulnerable to infection than others and should take extra care to stay isolated, said the boss.
Rumley said he'd met with employers at the county executive park about obeying the governor's rules. The businesses that felt they should shut down had done so, he said, but so far state and local governments are not making them. "As long as they can live with these rules, as of right now that's fine," he said.
He said the county had sent home some employees of its own. Rumley also said a teller window such as the two installed at the Administrative Building was now being installed at the county courts facility, and that probably the court system would begin conducting much of its business with the public through them going forward.
And Rumley reported he'd had further talks with the Wildwood Lifestyle Center, the Seventh-day Adventist hospital, which had 24 beds ready for overflow if Dade finds itself in need of them.
The boss announced some upcoming informational opportunities: Angie Galloway of the county tag and tax office will appear Thursday on the 3 p.m. live-streamed county briefing--that's on the Dade County, Ga., Facebook page in case you haven't already been following it--and Gov. Brian Kemp will host a live statewide town hall on COVID-19 at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 26. That will be broadcast on local and national radio and TV. Additionally, the Georgia Secretary of State will broadcast on local radio and TV at 9:15 a.m. Monday, March 30, about changes to the voting process.
Dade County Clerk Don Townsend also spoke about those changes on today's live stream. He said absentee ballot requests would be mailed to all current Georgia voters to ensure all had a chance to vote. He said Georgia driver's license testing will probably remain closed for the next few weeks but reminded all that if their licenses bore a star they are entitled to renew online for up to eight years. Go to georgiadmp.org.
Those are all state functions. As for the county: "Our doors are locked but our government is very much open," said Townsend. But call first, he stipulated--most business can be conducted over the phone, online or through the walk-up windows. Also, said Townsend, the due date for mobile home taxes has been moved from April 1 to May 1. The tax office's direct line is (706) 657-7563.
Finally, Townsend urged all to fill out their U.S. Census questionnaires online--this helps Dade get funding for hospitals, public health and first responder programs.
Josh Ingle of Dade Schools' Central Office reminded students--as if they would have forgotten--that they get this Friday off, so to go out and recreate. Sgt. Chad Payne reported for the Dade Sheriff's Office that with the SO closed to the public, reports may be requested by phone (706-657-3233) or email (email@example.com). Those wishing to take advantage of the sheriff's grocery-and-medicine delivery program can prepay and schedule several days in advance at the Walmart in Lookout Valley.
Emergency Services Director Alex Case like all the others stressed the governor's social distancing, quarantine and isolation campaign. "We need 15 days to help slow this down," he said. "The spread is three and a half times more than a normal cold."
He reminded all of the emergency ordinance Trenton passed Tuesday requiring city restaurants to offer takeout service only, and asked all businesses and individuals to do their part to maintain social distancing. "It's in your hands to help us,"