Smartphones and the various media outlets showcased on them inadvertently brought in the era of “Social Distancing.” Now, the coronavirus has turned that phrase into a lifesaving guideline.
On Monday afternoon, just as the U.S. President was releasing COVID-19 protection directives from the nation’s healthcare professionals, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills and government authorities assembled to discuss the pandemic on a local level.
The conference included County Commission Chairman Billy Webster, Mayor John Reid and Police Chief Kent Lawrence as well as officials from the city and county fire departments, health department, EMS, DFCS, water authority and Putnam General Hospital.
“Let me make it clear on testing,” Sills told The Eatonton Messenger. “If you are in severe respiratory distress, go to the hospital.”
He noted, otherwise, anyone who feels sick and is showing symptoms of the virus should first contact their doctor or urgent care before they go into the office.
Sills said tests for COVID-19 are available for persons with symptoms that meet the criteria of the CDC. Who meets that criteria is left up to physicians.
“Medical professionals decide that,” he said.
Sills noted Gov. Brian Kemp issued a State of Emergency and, in that case, all public officials are under the command of the governor.
“We are waiting on information from the state, which changes rapidly,” Sills said. “[Monday] it was no more than 50 people together in a room, then, when I was in the middle of the conference, the president came on and said no more than 10.”
Sills noted that, as Emergency Management Director of the county, the position calls for him to engage necessary services and develop and coordinate plans.
“As sheriff, I have a duty by law of the state of Georgia to preserve the peace and protect the lives of persons, property, health and morals of the people,” Sills said.
That includes encouraging the community to “stay at home” and follow the guidelines set forth by the CDC and Georgia Department of Public Health.
“This is going to be like an ice storm,” Sills said describing the “social distancing.”
He advised that in an ice storm there is a lot of waiting, and it’s too dangerous for folks to be going out unless it’s an emergency. Doing so could also put others’ lives at risk, he added.
“Everyone needs to stay home and not interact in large groups” Sills said. “The elderly is very susceptible to this.”
In the wake of the pandemic, local schools and governing authorities have been practicing social distancing and making other provisions to serve the public safely. Many have closed facilities or instituted temporary hours. Special procedures have also been put in place to continue conducting business.
According to educators from Gatewood Schools, that facility will be closed until April 6.
Putnam County Charter School System Superintendent Eric Arena announced students will be conducting online/ distance learning days through April 3, which will be followed by spring break April 6-10.
“There will be no extracurricular activities, sports, school events or field trips,” Arena said.
During online/distance learning days, school officials are delivering meals to children age 18 and under at Lakeside Baptist and Crossroads Baptist churches, Kinorhook Barbeque, Eatonton Ingles, Deer Run II, Peaceful Learning Center and several Putnam County fire stations.
The school system has also set up curbside delivery at Putnam County Elementary where parents/guardians simply drive through the bus rider lane and someone brings the meals to their car. Parents of a child with special needs and have concerns over accessing meals can contact school services at 706-485-5381.
Eatonton City Council agreed unanimously on March 16 to allow 112 hours of paid leave for staff who are diagnosed by a healthcare professional with having COVID-19 or who are quarantined because of the virus.
“It’s another tool in the toolbox to keep the employees safe,” City Administrator Gary Sanders said.
Councilmember Alvin Butts noted other towns are initiating curfews.
“This is serious,” Butts said. “We might need to think about that.”
Councilmembers agreed to also ratify action by the mayor to close the senior citizen center because of COVID-19. He said the members of the center would receive meals delivered to them at home until healthcare officials determine it is safe to return to large social gatherings.
Eatonton Fire Chief Eugene Hubert announced he would be suspending volunteer firemen from going on medical calls. Hubert explained firefighters in another county recently contracted COVID-19 after answering a medical call, leaving that department short six members.
“We are limiting them to fires and accidents,” Hubert said.
PGH officials announced earlier this week that staff would be in “constant communication with the GDPH, CDC, as well as various departments through the Georgia Hospital Association.”
The hospital’s cafeteria was closed to the public last Friday but will still be available for hospital staff. The Auxiliary’s Gift Shop in the Hospital was closed to the public also on that day.
For more information on preventive care, updates on the pandemic please visit www.cdc.gov/ coronavirus or northcentralhealthdistrict.org/ coronavirus. For anyone who does not have a primary care physician and is exhibiting symptoms of the virus, call 1-866-782-4582 or 1-866-PUB-HLTH.