Habersham County activates its coronavirus prevention plan

  • Chad Black, director of Emergency Services, demonstrates the Bioesque Botanical Disinfectant spray used to kill coronavirus on the person of EMTs and patients.
    Chad Black, director of Emergency Services, demonstrates the Bioesque Botanical Disinfectant spray used to kill coronavirus on the person of EMTs and patients.

   Habersham County is doing all it can to be prepared if the COVID-19 coronavirus comes here.

   Over the weekend, there were reports of two positive cases in Hall County, though one of those was later revealed to be someone from another county who sought medical attention there. A separate case was reported in Forsyth County on Sunday, according to District 2 Public Health, which covers Habersham County along with Banks, Dawson, Forsyth, Franklin, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White Counties.

   As of press time, no cases in Habersham were reported, and county leaders took steps over the last few days to try and keep it that way. The county’s web site (habershamga.com) has a button right at the top for constant updates about COVID-19 around Georgia and the nation. 

   “These measures are preventive at this point,” Chairman Stacy Hall said, praising County Manager Phil Sutton for his work on the plan. “We have a plan and we are activating that plan.” 

   Emergency Services responders have been prepared to deal with potential coronavirus infections with new safety procedures, protective gear and a spray substance that has a four-minute kill time for the virus.

   “The biggest thing for folks is to remain calm,” said Chad Black, director of Emergency Services for Habersham County. “Our No. 1 priority is protecting our people so they can continue to protect the public.”

   Habersham Medical Center will not allow visitors for the time being. A patient who is admitted can have one designated support person, but that person must go through appropriate screening each time that they enter the facility. The hospital’s dining area is closed, but the staff can still get their meals and take them to eat elsewhere.

   Juries and grand juries are suspended for the next 30 days, and the drug court is also closed, which puts the participants on house arrest until court proceedings resumed. A spokesperson for the Mountain Judicial Circuit stressed that this is not a health-related quarantine.

   Probate courts in Georgia also will temporarily suspend acceptance of new applications and renewals for weapons carry licenses. The licenses will not expire if the date runs out during this suspension.

   Emergency Services also will restrict walk-ups to fire stations without calling ahead to inform staff that they need help. E911 communications staff will be asking specific questions on dispatch calls to identify potential symptoms.

   The county is closing its senior wellness center through April 3 and is working to change congregate meals to home delivery. 

   “Over the next few weeks, we will re-evaluate this decision as the situation unfolds. During this time, volunteers and staff will still distribute meals to clients who are currently receiving this service,” Senior Center Director Kathy Holcomb said. “Staff will work to assist clients with grocery, banking, bill pay, medical, and medication transportation needs as necessary.”

   Habersham County Parks and Recreation has suspended all activities for now, and the Ruby Fulbright Aquatic Center is closed for at least the next two weeks. Little League Opening Day will be pushed back from Saturday to a later date, pending how the situation progresses.

   Events scheduled for Saturday – including the Dancing With The Stars fundraiser for Circle of Hope and the Pinewood Derby for local Scouts – have been postponed indefinitely.

   On Monday night, the Habersham County Board of Commissioners approved a two-week sick leave plan for employees who are diagnosed with the virus or are the caregiver of someone who has been diagnosed. 

   Sutton urged any county employee who feels they are at risk to communicate with their supervisor to make the appropriate arrangements for them to get well.

   The Habersham County Chamber of Commerce postponed all of its events for the next two weeks, but the office will remain open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to help all businesses any way they can, according to release by chamber president Mary Beth Horton.

   The chamber also is urging businesses to keep their establishments clean and appealing to any customers, as well as cross-training employees to help perform other tasks if others are out. They also urged business owners to prepare for potential negative impacts, but stressed that there are business plans for this kind of crisis and pledged their support.

   Doug McDonald of Cornelia spoke in public forum Monday night to criticize the county commissioners for even holding their meeting, but the commissioners encouraged folks to stay away from any other public gatherings for the near future.

   “Be good to yourself and your neighbors,” Commissioner Natalie Crawford said.

   The county reiterated the health guidelines the Center for Disease Control has been putting out during this pandemic crisis.

   • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.

   • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

   • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Maintain at least 6 feet of space from anyone who appears ill.

   • Stay home when you are sick.

   • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

   • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

   Habersham EMC is suspending disconnection of service for nonpayment effective immediately and will also waive late fees. This applies to all residential and business accounts within the service area until further notice. 

   “Electricity has an essential role in preventing the spread of the virus and we want to do our part to help our members during this challenging time,” said Whit Hollowell, Habersham EMC Acting CEO.

   HEMC offices in Clarkesville and Cleveland will close their lobbies to walk-in traffic.