Aside from state mandates announced Monday evening by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Bulloch County commissioners will “hold off” on issuing further quarantine orders regarding the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, said commission Chairman Roy Thompson.
In a press conference livestreamed at 5 p.m. Monday, Kemp issued an executive order to shelter in place for people who live in nursing or personal care homes, those who have chronic lung disease or cancer, and those who have tested positive for, possibly been exposed to, or have symptoms of the virus. He also ordered bars and nightclubs to close and prohibited gatherings anywhere of more than 10 people at a time, while mandating that people at gatherings of 10 or fewer stay at least 6 feet apart.
Kemp said this order, which extends until April 6, will “protect the medically fragile.”
Many people in Bulloch County are already doing this, Thompson said.
Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar issued a city-wide order Sunday, closing businesses deemed “not essential” and limiting restaurants to delivery or pickup orders only. Thompson said commissioners are not yet ready to take those measures for the county.
While smaller municipalities in the county have been awaiting commissioners’ decisions, residents in Brooklet, Portal and Register have already begun voluntarily taking precautionary steps.
Register residents have been asked to “self-quarantine,” said Mayor Barbara Rushing. Police will be on community patrol but will only make felony or warrant stops. The Town Hall is open, but not for pedestrian traffic; calls for service will be accepted, she said.
Brooklet City Clerk Angela Wirth said things were similar in Brooklet. Restaurants are pickup or delivery only, and residents are asked to self-quarantine, to not gather in large groups and to “stay home, especially if you are sick.”
Portal police Chief Jason Sapp said restaurant and convenience store kitchens have closed to inside dining, and people seem to be staying home more.
Prepared, but waiting
Bulloch County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Wynn said he was “not surprised” by Kemp’s decision to not impose a curfew or close businesses, but he is “glad he is taking a stronger stance” on measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“We will be looking at measures to enforce” the governor’s order, he said.
“I am not naïve enough to think (COVID-19) won’t come here, but we are waiting before we make any further decisions,” Thompson said.
The fact that Kemp did not order a more restrictive move for most businesses is actually a good thing, he said.
“The last thing we want to do is close down businesses. People need to be able to make a living.”
However, common sense needs to take hold, and if someone is sick, has been exposed to someone with the virus or shows symptoms, they need to stay home, he said.
It seems some residents might not be taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously, and they are still gathering in large, close-knit groups, he said.
“We need help from the citizens. Isolate, disinfect, use common sense.”
Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines should be sufficient to remain healthy, such as handwashing often for 20 seconds, using gloves and hand sanitizer, avoiding public places unless necessary, and isolating from everyone if you are sick, he said.
Kemp’s measures are sufficient for Bulloch County at the present, but commissioners and county health officials remain watchful and are prepared to take extra steps should a positive case of the virus appear in the area, Thompson said.
“For the present time, we are going to hold fast and follow the governor’s orders.”
County leaders are awaiting results of specimen collections sent for testing from the regional center set up at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fairgrounds. The site is not a walk-up testing site, but people whose doctors or health care providers have given them referral numbers, or who have obtained referral numbers from the Department of Public Health, can have specimens collected there and tested.
Kemp said Monday there are 23 such sites across Georgia, and since last week — the Statesboro site opened Thursday — the sites have taken samples for 1,245 tests statewide. Commercial labs in the state have issued 3,824 tests, he said.
The DPH has reported no test results yet from the Statesboro center. Wynn said county officials will only be alerted if there is a positive result from a test.
“If they are all negative, we won’t hear anything.”
Kemp said the collection sites, where nasal swabs are taken, prioritize the elderly and health compromised, medical workers and first responders.
As of Monday at 7 p.m., the Georgia DPH reported 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 70 of the state’s 159 counties, with 26 deaths.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.