Habersham County is tightening its COVID-19 restrictions. Most county-owned buildings are now closed to the public and the few that remain open are requiring people to follow strict social distancing rules.
Courthouse operations have been scaled back to reduce non-essential visits. And while the public can still access the lobbies at the Habersham County Detention Center and County Administration Building, they can not enter offices without permission. The only exception is the Habersham County Elections Office which is still accepting walk-ins as people continue to register to vote in the May 19 primary.
Visitors to the administration building and jail are now required to wash their hands before entering. Handwashing stations have been set up outside both buildings. Visitors to other buildings are being asked to wash their hands in the restrooms before doing anything else.
No more than two people at a time are allowed in the lobbies at the administration building. If you need to visit one of the offices there you must first call ahead.
Habersham County Manager Phil Sutton Tuesday released a comprehensive list of closings and restrictions that have been phased in since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Georgia in early March. With confirmed cases now in neighboring Hall and Stephens counties, Sutton says Habersham is “taking every reasonable action to slow or minimize the potential localized spread of this virus.”
Currently, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Habersham County, but public safety officials confirm at least two people have been tested. One tested negative. The other individual is awaiting test results.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that as of 7 p.m. on March 24, statewide, 1097 Georgians have tested positive for the coronavirus disease and 38 have died as a result of it. There are now two cases in Stephens County and 16 in Hall. White County officials expect it will soon be confirmed there.
During a called teleconference meeting of the White County Board of Commissioners on March 24, White County Public Safety Director David Murphy said first responders had been in contact with at least seven patients who exhibited signs of the coronavirus disease.
“I’ve said it’s not a matter of ‘if’ something would happen, it’s a matter of ‘when’,” Murphy said. “This is our when.”
Despite the encroaching disease, Habersham County employees continue to report to work as usual. They’re available to help residents during normal business hours by phone and online and, in some instances, in-person by appointment only.
Certain field workers such as Paramedics/EMT’s, Firefighters, Sheriff’s Deputies, Road Maintenance staff, building inspectors, code enforcement officers, and animal control officers who perform duties outside of their assigned offices are limiting public contact. They’re also using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as needed.
“Habersham County continues to take steps to provide an aggressive public safety response to the unprecedented COVID-19 situation to help stop the spread of the virus while ensuring essential government services continue to operate,” Sutton says.
In addition to limiting access to public facilities and scaling back some services, the county is disinfecting its buildings and vehicles. Personnel in the Facilities Management and Emergency Services Departments are using Bioesque Solution spray guns to disinfect public access buildings. They’re also spraying down ambulances, patrol cars, transit vehicles, and public works vehicles.
First responders are getting sprayed down too “prior [to] and after patient contact,” says Habersham County Emergency Services (HCES) Director Chad Black.
HCES has used the Bioesque spray system for several years. “Now everyone wants it,” he says. Last fall, when there was an outbreak of flu at the jail, the sheriff borrowed emergency services’ Bioesque applicator and Black says it stopped the outbreak “within a week.”
The county now owns several Bioesque applicators. “We also keep spray bottles on every emergency services unit as well,” says Black. He’s received daily calls for the past week-and-a-half from departments across the state asking him about the disinfection system. “Even had a fire department from Florida call last week wanting info and they placed an order.”
Despite all the precautions, there’s still no proven method to eradicate COVID-19. The best thing anyone can do right now is to follow the recommended and required local, state, and federal guidelines on how to slow the virus’ spread. Those measures include social distancing, frequently washing your hands, and disinfecting surfaces in your home and office – steps that are now being deployed across all levels of Habersham County government.
But that alone won’t slow the spread.
“If people will listen and stay home and not go out unless necessary – plan trips for the store and drug store, pick up to-go food when returning from work, or make one trip for all – versus taking the family shopping or just going out to go out, maybe two weeks. If not, this could go a month or longer, I’m afraid.”