The May Dade County Commission meeting on Thursday was an echo of April's--not the usual mad monthly whirl of democracy in action but another COVID-19-blighted affair attended only by the commission itself sitting at socially-distanced separate tables with no audience except on Facebook.
The meeting was so brief and perfunctory that County Executive Ted Rumley felt impelled to explain that the reason the commissioners met at all was that they were legally required to do so. “Hopefully next month we’ll fill the room up here," he said.
District 1’s Lamar Lowery managed to get in that 911 calls had been uncommonly heavy in April, and District 4’s Allan Bradford chimed in with a mini "State of the Dump" report: An unheard of 900 tons of garbage had gone through the county transfer station in April, he said. Otherwise there were no commissioner reports nor appearances.
And in fact, besides a routine approval of an application for Dade’s annual public transmit supplemental grant, almost nothing was on the meeting agenda and little was discussed that has not been rehashed every day at the county’s daily 3 p.m. livestreamed briefings. Thus The Planet will summarize together here developments from both the commission meeting and the last few daily livestreams.
At the meeting itself, the commissioners did briefly discuss the beginning of Dade’s yearly budget process. Rumley mentioned that employee health care had been expected to go up as much as 26 percent so that it was glad tidings to hear it had been wrestled down to only a 3 percent hike. “We’ll have that nailed down by the next meeting,” he said.
Another development of note is that April’s SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections, which in the past couple of years have been pretty strong, over $200,000 every month, in April sagged considerably below that, to $176,330. April was, of course, the first full month of the COVID-19 lockdown, when businesses closed and gas prices sagged as residents were ordered to stay at home.
The commissioners agreed to talk specifically about how to pay for cleanup expenditures after the Easter Day tornado that ravaged Dade at some unspecified point in the future.
Smoke billows into the sky as tornado damage is dealt with at the county transfer station. Rumley says the burning will stop after the end of next week.
Speaking of tornado cleanup, Rumley addressed at the meeting as he does at practically every briefing complaints about the county’s burning of brush from the Easter Day tornado. That should be wrapped by the end of next week, he promised, and after that the county will no longer be allowed to burn brush.
At the Friday briefing, Rumley also stressed the county is still picking up brush residentially—call the commission office at (706) 657-4625 if you require that service—and also that it is still providing electrical inspections for free for buildings damaged in the tornado. Call the number above or Rumley’s cell to request one—(423) 667-8999—and it will be scheduled almost instantly, he promised.
Rumley also addressed questions, as he and 911 Director Alex Case do almost daily at the briefings, from the uninsured whose homes were damaged or destroyed in the tornado about when and if individual assistance from the feds would be available. He didn’t have any happier an answer for the askers at the meeting than he and Case have had otherwise. Dade had sought to be declared eligible for federal assistance after the tornado, he explained, but: “They didn’t meet that threshold so we didn’t get declared, and that really hurts,” he said.
Alex Case, answering a question the issue at the Friday briefing, reiterated: “Right now there is no federal assistance.” The Small Business Administration has loans for businesses that suffered, said Case, but: “We only have one that qualifies.” Case is still asking for help from church or civic groups willing to help under- or uninsured individuals for free with their home repairs or tree damage—you can call his office at (423) 657-4111 to offer help.
Rumley and Case both at the commission meeting and the Friday briefings spoke about attendance at Dade’s first local drive-through COVID-19 testing by the Georgia Department of Health (DPH). They reported that 54 people were tested Thursday. Rumley said Dade’s active virus case numbers are expected to jump because of increased test availability.
Georgia Department of Health workers wait for Dade residents to test at Thursday's testing session at the Four Fields. DPH reported 54 people showed up for testing but by the time The Planet popped by at 3 p.m. not a car was left.
Speaking of which, at the Friday briefing it was announced DPH--which had begun the COVID-19 crisis trying to convince people they didn’t need a test, even if they had symptoms--is now throwing testing wide open. “Effective immediately testing is available to all Georgians who request it whether they have symptoms or not” a DPH memo read.
Rumley reminded all that DPH will again be administering the free drive-through nasal swab tests in Dade next Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 pm. at the county’s “Four Fields” athletic complex on Highway 11 South between Trenton and Rising Fawn. But he added if you can’t make it on Thursday there are DPH test sites in other Georgia counties where Dade residents can also test for free. One way or the other, you will still need a reservation number, which you can obtain by calling (706) 802 -5329 8 a.m.-7 p.m. through the week, until noon on Saturday. Again, if you show up without a reservation you will not be turned away but may lose your place in line as you provide basic information to the testers.
In the daily briefings, county boss Rumley gives the daily COVID-19 case numbers for Dade and the surrounding counties. Though, as Rumley mentioned above, the new availability of testing may inflate the county’s numbers going forward, the pattern this week is that Dade’s numbers go up by one one day, down one the next, and back up one the next as DPH makes unexplained adjustments. “There’s nothing that follows that when we get things that says why we went down,” said Rumley at a briefing this week.
Dade’s count has been varying from 16 to 17 in the past couple of days and was back to 16 at noon today. Rumley always stresses that 11 of those were produced from antibody-only tests that DPH has since decided should not be included in the active case count, as they represent people who had and recovered from the virus some time ago. Deducting those, and the first counted case, who died early on in this crisis, leaves only five known active cases in Dade at the present.
Dade’s surrounding counties continue to add a few cases day to day. At Friday’s 3 p.m. briefings, the numbers Rumley read were as follows: Hamilton County, Tenn., went from 184 to 196 cases, 97 recovered, 13 dead; Marion, Tenn., stayed the same at 19 cases; Jackson, Ala., went from 53 to 54; DeKalb, Ala., from 106 to 117. Georgia’s statewide numbers continue grim, 32,126 cases at noon Friday, 1395 total deaths. (Dade remains at one death, three hospitalizations.)
A note on testing in the "Rising Fawn Metro Area" Alabama counties: Test availability is much spottier there than in Georgia. The Planet found a state hotline that supplied a number—(256) 997-2708--it said was for test appointments at DeKalb Regional Medical Center in Fort Payne, but no one answered the number or returned messages. Perhaps the best bet if you live on the Alabama side of the border is to call your local physician and try to go from there.
David Powell, co-owner of the Southeastern Lineman Training Center, reported at the Wednesday afternoon briefing on the school’s resumption of classes this week. He said the school staff has added a registered nurse to help ensure virus safety at the school. He said the registration process on Monday had included temperature checks, to which the students will submit daily going forward, and that they had been issued face masks with their tool kits. Answering a question about whether they are required to wear them while off campus, Powell said: “We are encouraging that but it is their discretion.”
County boss Rumley urged Powell to put the case to the students more strongly, especially when they were going out to eat. “Just stress to them how important it is to us,” said Rumley. “I don’t know how many calls I got from Subway, people who got there and turned around and left.”
Alex Case, reporting on Friday as mayor of Trenton, said City Hall opens back up on Monday, May 11, and the city commission May meeting is that evening at 6 p.m.
For the county, Ted Rumley said only the Administrative Building is now open, though the county is working on getting its probate court in the courts facility business back open for business. He believes the courts will open on the 14th. He said the Justice Building and jail remain closed until Georgia’s Driver’s Services return.
He gave good news answering a question about Sulphur Springs Gap Road: “By this time next week, unless something drastic happens, we’ll have that road back open.”
He said the county had had safety complaints about work on the Daniels Road bridge over I-59 and had spoken to GDOT about it. “They’ve handled it,” he said. They will be practicing safe practices on that bridge.”
County agent Sarah Dyer said at Friday's briefing that Dade 4-H’s Ag Building will reopen to the public in a limited way this Monday, May 11. You may drop your soil samples off for testing there, she said, or get your gardening questions answered. You can also call (706) 657-4111 for that. All 4-H events in May are still cancelled, she said, but maybe some in June will go forward--she will let the county know
Dade County will continue livestreaming its 3 p.m. briefings each day next week. “Like” the Dade County Ga. Facebook page and you will be alerted when the county goes live.
As for county commission meetings, they are routinely scheduled for 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The next one scheduled is June 4.