With the statewide shelter-in-place order expiring Thursday night and Tuesday's weird but welcome revelation from the health department that Dade County has virtually no confirmed COVID-19 cases--only three, one of whom died shortly after confirmation--the Dade coronavirus crisis is grinding to a halt. Dade County Executive Ted Rumley announced at today's 3 p.m. livestreamed COVID-19 briefing that county buildings will reopen on Monday.
"We do ask that when you come into the building that you wear a mask," he said. New plexiglass shields will separate employees from visitors, and the county, like reopening businesses, will honor social distancing, but: "If you still feel uncomfortable coming into the building, that's fine," said Rumley. The teller-style windows installed in the Administrative and court buildings will remain intact and citizens may use those if they wish to avoid human contact.
Rumley went back over Tuesday's bombshell announcement by the Georgia Department of Public Health: Of the 17 COVID-19 cases it had attributed Dade the day before, three were cases that belong somewhere else and 11 were positive results from antibody tests, which indicated not that the subjects had the deadly virus now but that they had had it previously.
Now, said Rumley, all the nearby testing facilities had run out of the antibody test, complicating the county's quest to get a test facility operational in Dade. Even the Georgia Public Health Department in Walker County, which has been doing the testing for Dade as well as other adjoining counties, is having problems with supplies, said Rumley, not just with the test kits but with the personal protective equipment health workers must wear. Still, said Rumley of the testing site: "We're doing everything we can to make that happen in Dade County."
The county boss touched briefly on Cloudland Canyon State Park--no change there, he said: The park is limiting visitation to 150 cars and closing down a few hours when it has reached that cap. This appears to be going smoothly with the help of additional law enforcement from the Department of Natural Resources. "They've got plenty of help out there now," said Rumley.
Rumley went over the COVID-19 numbers as he does every day. "We were assured in Georgia, anyway, that from now on the antibody tests will not show up in these numbers," he said. But they remain in Dade's official count, which remains at 14. In Georgia, there are as of noon today 25,592 COVID-19 confirmed cases--presumably including the antibody tests--and 1093 deaths statewide. In the surrounding counties, cases are still going up but only by one or two at a time. [At right is a map from the county Facebook page with today's numbers.] "Maybe after this next week we'll start showing a decrease," said Rumley.
But he added that the national plan to flood the county with more test kits may drive the numbers back up.
The boss repeated today that the Four Fields athletic complex remains closed except for the walking track. Lighting fixtures damaged by the Easter tornado should be repaired and good to go around the same time social distancing rules are due to be relaxed. "We've got to go right by the guidelines," he reminded.
Speaking of which, he reminded businesses reopening after the lockdown of the governor's 20 points (Rumley displays them in the above photograph), which can be downloaded from the county's website, dadecounty-ga.gov.
And speaking of the website, Deputy Clerk Carey Anderson gave a demonstration of how to navigate it. Readers can use the website to sign up for weather alerts, find out about COVID-19 closures and reopening, and obtain a great deal of other usefu information. Follow the prompts in your area of interest.
Ms. Anderson also had another reason readers who have not done so already should go to 2020census.gov and fill out their census forms: Governments use census information when making plans for new roads, hospitals and bridges.
Alex Case, Dade's emergency services director, and incidentally the mayor of Trenton, spoke briefly about church services, some of which are also cautiously reopening for business. “No handshaking, no hugging,” he warned. “Praises and preaching" are OK, he added.
Another reopening local institution the mayor addressed is the state driver's license outpost in Dade. “We are hearing they may give us a date when they’ll come back to the county,” said Case. Driver's Services personnel are usually in Dade two Mondays a month, but stopped with the lockdown. When Case gets a date, he'll share it with the public, he said, but meanwhile remember you can renew licenses online--the site for that is dds.ga.gov.
Case also addressed concerns from uninsured residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the Easter tornado about getting individual assistance from the federal government. He had no good news yet but explained the process:
His department goes out and assesses damages. In this case it was 152 homes affected by the tornado, 12 destroyed of which 11 were uninsured. Then GEMA, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, also has a look. After that happened this time, said Case, Gov. Kemp agreed to sign an order recommending Dade as one of four Georgia counties deserving individual assistance. Now, he said, if FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) decides to award Dade some money, it will let Case know.
Meanwhile, Case said, he's still looking for affordable rentals for those displaced in the storm and he's still looking for faith-based or other volunteer groups to help the uninsured or those with difficulty paying their insurance deductibles. "We've got roofs that need repairs, we've got trees and stumps," he said. "Please give us a call...this is a long recovery period that we're dealing with." His office number is (706) 657-4111.
Speaking in his mayoral role, Case said City Hall will open back up May 11, the week after the county. Like the county, the city asks that visitors wear masks, he said.
Coming back on to answer questions, Ted Rumley clarified that thoughThursday night is the end of Georgia's stay-at-home order, May 13 is the governor's recommended date for those who are especially vulnerable, such as the elderly and those compromised by underlying health conditions, to emerge from quarantine.
He reminded all that the Dade Public Library reopens next Tuesday, May 5, and that these daily livestreamed briefings will go to only Tuesday and Thursday next week. Going forward they'll concern not just COVID-19 but any information the county needs to impart. "It can be anything from weather to a crime alert," said Rumley.
The livestream is another tool the county can now use to reach the people, said the county boss. "It's a blessing to us and a blessing to you, too," he concluded.