At today's daily Dade County COVID-19 livestreamed briefing, County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley said that if Gov. Brian Kemp won't close Cloudland Canyon State Park--and Rumley said the governor has told him personally he wouldn't--the county will take care of the problem itself by exercising its right to police the county road leading into the park.
"We're having to get serious with this in our county and protect our people here," said Rumley.
Dade's concern, expressed at previous daily briefings--and, rather forcefully, on social media across the county--is that the thousands of tourists pouring into Dade to visit the popular state park will bring with them the deadly coronavirus that has killed thousands over the globe. The county pled with Gov. Brian Kemp to close the park after visitors overwhelmed the park en masse last weekend, Kemp responded with a compromise order that limited visitation and required the park to put up signs urging social distancing, which Rumley and the other county commissioners made it clear they found inadequate.
Now Rumley says after conferring with Robin Rogers, the county attorney, the commission has found that though it cannot unilaterally close a state park, it can restrict traffic on County Road 78, the small road that leads from Highway 136 into the park grounds. "We have a right to control that road for the health and welfare of the county," said the county boss. "During an emergency, we have the right to do that."
Rumley said he'd spoken by phone with the other four county commissioners and they supported the measure solidly. He said the commission would make the measure formal at its regular April meeting on Thursday evening.
Rumley said the county can restrict the road to local traffic, and if motorists are stopped who come from shelter-in-place areas--and all Georgia will be shelter-in-place as of Friday, the governor decreed later this afternoon--Dade law enforcement can tell them to go home.
And if that sounds tantamount to telling Gov. Kemp to go to hell: "We're not trying to override our governor," assured the Boss. But, he also made clear: "No one knows what's better for Dade County than Dade County, and that's a fact."
Rumley also stressed that Atlanta was now a COVID "hot spot" like New York or New Orleans, and that there had been plenty of cars at Cloudland Canyon last weekend with Louisiana plates.
Maj. Tommy Bradford of the Dade County Sheriff's Office spoke briefly later in the livestream, pledging the SO's help with the commission's initiative.
Otherwise, Boss Rumley read as he does every day the daily COVID-19 numbers: 4638 cases in Georgia today, up from 3817 Tuesday; only one case still in Dade, two now in Walker County next door. In the out-of-state counties that border Dade, there are 50 cases in Hamilton County, Tenn., five in Marion, Tenn., eight in Jackson, Ala., and four in DeKalb, Ala. Georgia COVID-19 deaths are up today 139 from 108 Tuesday. There have been three deaths now in Hamilton.
Carey Anderson, Dade deputy clerk for public information, exhibited a statistics chart available on the county website and Facebook page to illustrate that the virus is closing in. "Today is the first day there is not a zero-confirmed-case in our area," she said.
Also on the county website and Facebook page, reminded Rumley, is information on how to get help from the Small Business Administration for small businesses and self-employed or unemployed individuals impacted by the current shutdown. Rumley said there was a "tremendous amount of money coming down from the federal government" to help such individuals."
As for the county commission meeting--it's at 6 p.m. Thursday night, April 2--Rumley reminded members of the public they can come but only if there's room for everyone to sit six feet apart. Otherwise they might have to wait in the hall (also six feet apart). So it may be more prudent to catch the event on livestream, as the county has previously invited the public to do.
Speaking of the county's attempt to maintain social distancing, Emergency Services Director Alex Case said he'd gotten some criticism of possible virus exposure among speakers at the daily briefings. "A lot of us come up to this desk, but we do clean it," he said. He made his point by taking a sanitizing wipe to the desk as he spoke, and referred rather touchily to the honorary A-plus Superintendent of Schools Jan Harris had conferred on him at Tuesday's briefing.
Case also discussed the measures his crew is taking to protect emergency responders--"Goggle, clothes and mask is every call"--and the extraordinary lengths taken to disinfect ambulances between each use. Finally, he urged listeners as always to look after each other as infections rise and peak in the coming weeks. "Please check on your family and friends," he said.
Tammy Franklin of Dade Public Health responded to questions she said she'd been asked about COVID-19 recovery numbers. She said according to the Johns Hopkins website: "It's still about 80 percent that are recovering from this." She quickly added: "Those numbers are probably not as accurate as they could be if everybody was tested."
She also addressed questions about the identity of Dade's one diagnosed COVID-19 case, explaining that HIPPA laws protect patient's medical information from becoming public. "There will never be names shared because of that," she said.
For the Dade school board, Central Office employee Josh Ingle reminded all of the community-provided free meals for kids next week during the schools' spring break. Again, meals may be picked up at Dade High from 3-6 p.m. on April 6 and 8. Ingle thanked Martha Baker, Dade First director, and Kristin Barrett, school social worker, for organizing that.
Ingle also pled with parents to fill out the questionnaires school principals had sent out via social media--the school system needs your feedback to know how to help you during this strange and stressful time, he said.
These daily briefings are livestreamed at 3 p.m. each day during this crisis on the Dade County Ga. Facebook page. You can also access the recorded video afterwards there or on The Dade Planet's Facebook page.