DeKalb County officials are informing the public of plans that are in place, and precautions already taken, at schools, senior citizen facilities and other public locations should the COVID-19 strand of the coronavirus continue to spread.
Officials including CEO Michael Thurmond, Director of the DeKalb County Board of Health Sandra Ford, Superintendent of DeKalb County School District Ramona Tyson and others were on hand March 11 to deliver the latest goals and plans to keep the county healthy as well as answer questions from the public.
The meeting was originally scheduled to take place at Rehoboth Baptist Church, but public health concerns shifted the town hall meeting to a virtual format.
Ford explained that the virus is spread through contact of infected water droplets from sneezing or coughing. Officials are not sure how long the virus can live on surfaces – hours or days – so it is important to disinfect areas and objects that are frequently touched such as doorknobs, handles, cellphones and more. Most importantly, said Ford, it is important to wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap, which kills the virus. Spread and infection commonly occurs when touching the face with unwashed hands.
Ford confirmed that there is a limited number of COVID-19 tests in Georgia and those who suspect they may be infected should call their primary care physicians, or an emergency room, and follow instructions. Those who suspect they are infected should not go out at risk of spreading the virus, said Ford.
“We are learning about this every day and we are chasing it. We ask for patience while we figure out how to control spread and levels of anxiety. Be mindful that everyone is at risk. Be mindful of infection control at all times. We’re managing day by day and providing information to relieve fear. Our message is prevention and protection but not panic” said Ford.
Although a number of community members attending the town hall virtually suggested schools should be closed, Tyson said public schools will remain open. However, just a day later, the district released messages on their social media platforms and websites declaring that school would remained closed until further notice.
“All employees will continue to be paid and will work remotely from home. Student learning will continue through virtual learning assignments in the VERGE platform. We are exploring options for providing emergency meal service for students. All district and school sponsored events, activities, meetings, and competitions are cancelled until further notice. It also includes athletics, extracurricular, school events and system wide events,” stated the notice in part.
“We’re taking the steps we need to take to minimize risk and exposure. We are ready, we have been proactive and we are prepared,” said Tyson.
The school district has also escalated cleaning and disinfecting of facilities and buses as well as staff training for all school custodians.
Although Ford said all schools in the district have an adequate supply of soap, sanitizers and paper towels, some community members said their children’s school was not stocked with enough supplies. Donations of disinfecting wipes, soap, and child-friendly cleaning supplies are being accepted at all schools.
Ford said a virtual learning curriculum is ready and in place for all students at every grade level.
Although the town hall aimed to spread information instead of fear, attendees of the virtual town hall expressed dissatisfaction with the district’s plan to not close down schools at this time. Many called the county’s measures “reactive instead of proactive.”
“Why are we not taking measures in DeKalb regarding social distancing? The sooner we will do that the more lives we’ll save,” said Maria Augustina Damian.
The town hall meeting had more than 9,400 views at press time.