Amid widespread concern over the possibility of the COVID-19 virus being present in the area, Bulloch County commissioners, Statesboro city government, public health officials, school leaders and other volunteers are working to ensure residents are as safe as possible.
Local volunteer organizations are also taking steps to ensure people have enough food, medicine and other supplies during the period of caution. In addition, Bulloch County commissioners agreed to provide $100,000 in emergency funds for the Bulloch County Health Department, along with the use of county emergency procurement powers. This action will enable quicker response for localized incidents, if needed, said Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch.
Representatives from several governmental and other agencies met Monday to discuss a plan of action and prepare in case the coronavirus does appear in Bulloch County, he said.
According to a joint press release Monday from Bulloch County and the City of Statesboro, “At present, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Statesboro or Bulloch County. However, both the city and county continue to monitor the virus and work closely with the Bulloch County Health Department and Bulloch County Emergency Management to provide updates that would affect the community.”
Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn confirmed that there has been no official report of anyone in Statesboro testing positive for the virus, despite rumors of a recent visitor who later tested positive. That rumor has been disputed; however, city and county leaders are taking steps to prepare in case COVID-19 does appear.
“The City of Statesboro is actively working to protect the health and safety of our citizens,” said Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar. “We want to ensure our community has access to all the latest information regarding the virus, so they can be prepared. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) are your number one resources during this time.”
Common hygiene practices should be followed, said Bulloch County commission Chairman Roy Thompson.
“I want to remind our citizens during this time that it is important to practice the basics of virus prevention,” Thompson said. “Wash your hands, cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and if you feel unwell, do not report to work. Those who are most at risk, including the elderly and those who have compromised immune systems, should take extra precautions.”
Both he and McCollar, in step with the CDC guidelines, discourage people from “attending and hosting in-person events that consist of 50 or more people over the next eight weeks to slow the spread of the virus within the community and within the city workforce,” the released statement read.
As of Monday, all events that involve public participation including First Fridays downtown, performances at the Averitt Center, and all hearings and arraignments at the Municipal Court of Statesboro will cease until March 31.
Thompson said county officials were still discussing on Monday how the government agency will conduct business during this time of caution.
McCollar said the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau will be “indefinitely closed to the public starting today, March 16, though operations will be maintained.”
City Council meetings and work sessions will proceed as scheduled but will be posted on the City of Statesboro’s YouTube channel as well as its Facebook page for citizens to watch, though they are still free to attend in person.
Bulloch County has taken similar measures by suspending permits for special public events and many parks and recreation activities, scaling back court operations, and modifying workforce activities. County commission meetings will proceed as scheduled, according to the release.
Helping those in need
Bulloch County VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster) and the Wesley Foundation have created a registry that matches volunteers with persons over 60 or who are otherwise more susceptible to contracting the virus, said VOAD member DeWayne Grice.
The volunteers will be paired with residents who may need to stay home or are unable to go pick up things they need, he said. Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies and Statesboro police will aid in delivering things such as medicine if there are no volunteers available, he said. Volunteers will be observing CDC recommendations, and there will be no person-to-person contact during deliveries.
There will also be several local food drops and soup kitchens available.
City and county leaders recommend self-quarantining if anyone has any remote chance of having been in contact with the virus, according to the release.
If residents have recently traveled to areas where there are ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19, and if they develop a fever with cough and shortness of breath within 14 days of travel, or if they have been in contact with someone who is suspected to have COVID-19, “stay home and call your health care provider or local health department right away,” the statement read. “Be sure to call before going to a doctor’s office, emergency room or urgent care center and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. If you are not symptomatic, it is not necessary to reach out to a health care provider at this time.”
Both McCollar and Thompson suggest using good preventative habits including staying home if sick, except to get medical care; covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash; and washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
Also, use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily; and avoid handshakes and high-fives.
Seek credible news sources
In spite of social media reports that a woman visiting from New York recently to attend a wedding in Statesboro tested positive for COVID-19, Wynn said neither the CDC nor DPH has confirmed that report. The local church that first posted about the visitor testing positive released a statement Monday disputing the initial report.
The statement released Monday by First Baptist Church Statesboro, provided to the Statesboro Herald by church member Keith Hagan, read: “First Baptist Church Statesboro has received updated information pertaining to the recent report of the coronavirus at our facilities. New information provided to us states that the individual in question actually tested negative for COVID-19.
“Our initial report was based on information provided to us at that time. Today, information was brought to our attention that the individual who attended the wedding on March 7 at our campus actually tested negative for the virus. The confusion was that her father and a coworker had tested positive, so she was told to act ‘as if’ she were positive until her own test came back.
“We are pleased to report this new information to our congregation and community, and we regret any unnecessary concern that was caused by the initial report. Indeed, these are unprecedented times and First Baptist Church Statesboro desires to serve our community with the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The social media posts last week resulted in an alarmed reaction. Fearing quarantines, residents emptied shelves of local stores, especially targeting food, toilet paper and other paper goods, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
McCollar reminds residents that social media is not always a reliable source for news.
“I’d like to urge our citizens to be mindful of where you are getting your information from,” he said. “At times like these, it is easy to give in to panic and believe everything you read online. I ask you to please be vigilant and mindful of how you are sharing information.”
More information about COVID-19, including links with guidance for businesses, employers and schools, is posted on the CDC’s website at CDC.gov. Localized information regarding COVID-19 can be found on the DPH’s website at dph.georgia.gov.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.