With the five-month, $3.5 million renovation of Assembly Hall to be completed Dec. 6, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners planned to return to in-person meetings Dec. 16 after hosting them virtually for most of the time since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March.

But a recent increase in cases has forced the county to rethink that strategy regarding the downtown Atlanta venue.

“We want to inform you about the latest (rise in) cases, and returning to Assembly Hall would not be something the executive staff would support at this time,” Fulton Chief Operating Officer Anna Roach said.

Roach spoke at the board’s Dec. 2 meeting, where it voted 6-0 to hold future meetings online at least until conditions are safe to return to in-person meetings.

Due to the outbreak, the board had been holding its meetings virtually from March until June, when it returned to in-person meetings after it was deemed safe to do so. But following a July 4 holiday weekend spike in coronavirus cases, the group resumed online meetings out of health and safety concerns.

At its Nov. 4 meeting, the board voted 6-1 to return to in-person meetings starting Dec. 16 before changing course four weeks later. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website, the 14-day average of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Fulton per 100,000 residents has jumped from 83 on Oct. 1 to 230 on Nov. 23.

Commissioners Liz Hausmann (District 1) and Lee Morris (District 3), who both advocated for a return to in-person meetings, said they’ve reversed course on the topic.

“I think as the only person who was pushing hardest to meet in person,” Hausmann said, “I agree the circumstances have definitely changed and (the pandemic) is a lot more prevalent than any of us thought it would get to. So I support us not meeting in person until things change.”

Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has proposed a change in its guidelines regarding individuals self-quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19.

“This is a concession,” said Paxton, who previously worked at the CDC. “They’re trying to balance data on when people are exposed to the virus and the practicalities. Many people are unwilling to remain in self-isolation for 14 days. They’re going to announce the new guidelines are seven days of quarantine, and then to get a test and then 10 days for those contacts who do not get a test. This has not been posted yet.”

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