Local officials discuss the COVID-19 outbreak.

Troup County Braces for COVID-19

Tommy Murphy
Staff Writer

As many people are beginning to settle into the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, local leaders held a web conference to help calm some fears a remind everyone that national, state, and local officials are working together to help keep people safe.

Mayor Jim Thornton hosted a Facebook LIVE Community Discussion to address concerns from the public about the corona virus disease. Joining Thornton in the roundtable was Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews, Troup County School System Superintendent Dr. Brian Shumate, Troup County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jon Whitney, WellStar West Georgia President Coleman Foss, and District 4 Health Director Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo.

Mayor Thornton began by reminding everyone that local officials are doing everything they can to protect the citizens of LaGrange, and Troup County and the surrounding community. He also reminded everyone that the City of LaGrange is still open for business. Garbage trucks are still running and utility and road departments are still working.

Thornton also tried to ease some concerns that about paying for utilities. Some are worried that their utilities might be cut off due to being unable to work and having no money coming in. Thornton advised that the city will not disconnect utilities until the corona virus public health emergency is over. Those are essential services, he said. He also noted that doesn’t mean those services are free. The meters will still be running, but he noted that they will work with people to pay bills once the crisis is over.

At the time, Thornton noted that the CDC had recommended that gatherings with 50 or more people be postponed or cancelled for the next eight weeks. The White House has since recommended avoiding groups of 10 or more people.

Thornton noted that he doesn’t have the power to prohibit such events, but he encourage following that advice. He also noted that the recent declaration of public health emergency gives Governor Brian Kemp a broad range of powers, so he could do so if necessary. Events on city property will be cancelled.

Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, director of Public Health District 4, also tried to ease some concerns over the perceived lack of testing for the virus.

Dr. Obasanjo began by explaining that most of what’s being done isn’t to benefit younger people. In most cases, even if they get infected, they likely not know they have the virus or only have mild symptoms. The reason we are being asked to socially distance is to protect the elderly, who have a higher risk from the disease with a much higher mortality rate.

Dr. Obasanjo noted that for most folks they believe may have been exposed to the virus they are simply asking them to self-quarantine. For cases where individuals are confirmed to have the virus, their known contacts will be informed and also quarantined, so there is no need to test them.

‘When we identify a known contact of a confirmed case, there is no need to test that individual,” he said. ‘So as for their contacts, all we need to do is socially isolate them and watch them for 14 days.’

Dr. Obasanjo said that if a person does test positive for COVID-19, they would be considered disease- free seven days after the infection was identified or three days after their last symptoms.

Obasanjo also explained that they aren’t going to be able to eliminate all transmissions of the disease. They are simply trying to reduce the rate of new cases and “flatten the curve,’ so that hospitals are not overwhelmed. Flattening the curve means reducing the number of new cases and spreading the transfer over time, which will lessen the impact on hospitals.

School Superintendent Brian Shumate said during the broadcast that schools were planning on reopening in two weeks, but noted that could change. The governor forced a change in those plans on Monday night when he ordered schools closed through March 31, adding two days to the closure.

While schools are closed, the school system is providing sack lunches for pickup at various locations. The school system will use busses to deliver lunches to locations throughout the community and provide drive up service for students at Berta Elementary Franklin Forest Elementary, Berta Elementary, Hogansville Elementary, Callaway Middle School, LaGrange High School, Clearview Elementary, Long Cane Middle School, Ethel Kight Elementary School and West Point Elementary School.

The lunches will be handed out from 11 a.m. to noon while the schools remain closed. The lunches delivered by bus are expected to arrive between 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

For a full schedule of stops and pickup locations, see page 3, or visit www.troup.k12.ga.us.

Chief Deputy Jon Whitney advised that the Sheriff’s Office has closed the inmate visitation building that is used for video visitation. While in person visits have never been allowed, the decision was made to close the visitation building for the safety of employees.

Online visitation will still be available and the Sheriff’s Office is negotiating with the service provider for a reduced rate due to the public health emergency. Inmate telephone and email services will remain unaffected.

The author of this article can be reached via email at info@troupcountynews.net.