"Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)--Lewis Carroll.
Dade finds itself feeling a little Alice-in-Wonderlandish today as the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) bounces its COVID-19 numbers to hell and back. A week ago Dade had three cases of the deadly virus. Last week, the numbers began increasing exponentially until Monday morning there were 17 cases. Then, at 7 p.m. Monday, there were 14 cases.
[Click the DPH logo to go to the DPH Daily Status Report, which has a new look and some new numbers. Sort of.]
So what happened to the missing three cases? If county residents die of COVID-19, they remain on the case list; they just go into the county deaths column as well. The bewildered Dade County government petitioned DPH for an answer, and today learned that the 17-to14 glitch came from DPH assigning Dade other counties' cases. "There was one in Dade County, Florida, and it came to us," said Rumley.
But that's not all. In point of fact--drumroll, please--Dade is not down to 14 cases, it's back to its original three. Or actually...
"In reality, we only have two confirmed cases," said County Executive Ted Rumley at today's regular livestreamed 3 p.m. COVID-19 briefing, explaining that the other, Dade's first announced case, had died.
All this useful information comes from a statement Rumley and Deputy Clerk Carey Anderson received today from Dr. Gary Voccio, regional public health director.
Dr. Voccio explained that Dade's as well as other Georgia counties' case counts had swollen recently as positive "serology-only" test results were counted as confirmed cases. "Serology-only" indicates the finger-prick blood test that detects the presence or absence of antibodies that the body forms when under siege by COVID-19. This test does not indicate so much who has the deadly virus as who has had it.
Now, on advice from federal authorities including the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the health department has decided these cases should not be included in the numbers it gives out on its daily status reports for public consumption. But, explained Dr. Voccio, those cases must remain in the status report because "we simply do not have the resources right now" to take them out.
However, Dr. Voccio apparently knows how many of the cases in his district came from serology-only, as opposed to the nasal swab test used to confirm active cases, because he was able to share that with Rumley and crew. Not only does Dade go from from 17, or 14, or whatever, to only two active cases, Walker County next door loses 44 cases and goes from 58 to 14, said Rumley. All northwestern counties but four are affected, said Rumley--maybe all the counties in Georgia.
"This is really big news," said the county boss.
Indeed. From having very little sickness associated with the global pandemic, Dade goes now to having almost none. But an interesting corollary is that Dade very probably had a great deal of the virus earlier in the year--people just didn't know they had it, thinking they were suffering from colds or regular old garden-variety flu.
"I thought I had the flu this year, too," said Rumley, who was in fact very sick this winter. "There's no telling how many people had this during January."
The Ready Clinic, a walk-in clinic in Walker County, for a time offered the antibody test but ran out of supplies as patients surged in to have their blood tested for the virus. Rumley said he wants the test himself, and from colloquial reports, many other local residents are on the waiting list, which Rumley said was now over 1000. Rumley also said he is still working to get a test facility in Dade and looking for a supplier of the test kits.
So is the whole COVID-19 crisis over, at least here at the center of the universe? Rumley reminded all that the shelter-in-place order ends Thursday night, though social distancing guidelines remain in place for the time being. He said that businesses including restaurants opening up this week in the county after the lockdown was lifted by Gov. Brian Kemp have been doing so smoothly and he's received no complaints about them.
And he said these livestreamed 3 p.m. daily briefings would, after Friday, go to two days a week only--Tuesday and Thursday. The county will keep livestreaming information to the citizens even after this crisis is officially over, said Rumley, because it has found how useful a way they are to disseminate information. Some 4-to 5000 people are watching them every day, he said. "I didn't realize there was that many people we could reach out to," said Rumley.
He said the various departments of county government, such as law enforcement and schools, would continue to use the forum, and that all information would be verified before it was disseminated. "We're not going to shoot you a bunch of bull," said Rumley.
Doors in the Dade Administrative Building will open again next Monday, May 4, for the first time since the crisis shut them down in March, though Rumley again warned the world won't go back to the way it was pre-pandemic. The monthly county commission meeting is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 7, though here again things remain a little off: County Clerk Don Townsend asked local media outlets to invite the general public to watch the meeting "in the comfort of their homes" to comply with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines still in place.
"The meeting will be posted to the County’s new social media platforms, including: YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PHXsg3Dny8 Facebook Live link: https://www.facebook.com/DadeCountyGA/videos/2951958668199034/?t=25," wrote Townsend.
Dr. Jan Harris, superintendent of schools, came on today's briefing to announce big changes in the schools' federally-funded meal distribution program. "We are expanding our service to include meals for seven days," she said. But, she went on, all this food will now be delivered on only one day each week, Wednesday.
Some food may require refrigeration or freezing to last all week, and some will require some degree of preparation. Included in each child's packet will be two half-gallons of milk, one chocolate and one regular. All children 2-18 years of age are eligible to receive the food, and there is no cost to parents or guardians.
As in the past, food will be delivered by school buses four hours after their regular morning pickup time--please provide a container to put it in--or parents may instead pick it up from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Davis or Dade Elementary. But one more change in the drill is that students who live on certain Trenton city streets must meet the bus at their regular bus stops to get their food, because the smaller bus will no longer be used and the larger one cannot negotiate their streets to get to their houses. Those streets are Forest Street, Jones Trail, Poplar Street and Glenbrook Drive.
The super also said Dade Middle School is making face masks for county leaders with its 3-D printer, and she enthused about renovation work underway at Davis School on the old rock building and in the library media center. "We have got so many exciting projects going in Dade County," she said.
Carey Anderson reminded all who haven't already done so to go to 2020census.gov and be counted in the national census. Federal and state money will continue to be allotted according to information gathered in this count for the next decade, she stressed.
Here are some questions asked by watchers and some answers they got at this session: Are Dade's parks open, and if not, when will they be? Answer: At the Four Fields, the walking track is all that's open. The playground will have to remain shut until federal and state social distancing guidelines are removed, and the ballfields can't open until lighting damaged during the Easter tornado is repaired.
As for the city, Jenkins Park is open except for the playground, which must also remain closed until Phase 2 of the country's reopening.
An unconnected inquiry was one concerning the possibility of lowering the speed limit on Back Valley Road or getting speed bumps installed there. Rumley said he'd ask the sheriff's office to take at look at that. The county can change the speed limit with the SO's involvement, and increased patrolling can be effective in getting people to slow down, said Rumley; though as for speed bumps, lawsuits have made counties leery of putting them in. "Usually when you see speed humps it's in a regulated community," he said, such as a subdivision governed by a homowners association.
These briefings are livestreamed from the Dade County Ga. Facebook page at 3 p.m. every day. "Like" the page and you'll be notified when the county goes live. Alternatively, you may watch the video afterwards either on the county's page or The Planet's, where they are routinely shared.