Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners plans to return to in-person meetings Dec. 16, shortly after its regular meeting space, Assembly Hall, reopens following a five-month, $3.5 million renovation.

“We will continue virtual meetings until Assembly Hall reopens, since it will provide enough space for attendees,” said Anna Roach, the county’s chief operating officer.

At its Nov. 4 meeting, the board voted 6-1 to approve not returning to in-person meetings until after Assembly Hall, located in downtown Atlanta, reopens. Roach provided an update on the county’s reopening plan due to the pandemic, including an option to return to in-person meetings in smaller spaces before Assembly Hall reopened.

After the outbreak started in the United States in March, the board opted to hold its meetings virtually as a precaution. This summer, before a spike in cases forced the county to return to online meetings, it held meetings at Assembly Hall in June and early July.

Assembly Hall is scheduled to reopen Dec. 6, 10 days before the board’s Dec. 16 recess meeting. During her presentation, Roach said the county could have opted to return to in-person meetings at other spaces within the Fulton government building, but it would have been more spread out.

Even once Assembly Hall reopens, residents wanting to attend the meetings in person may have to gather in a second room due to space constraints inside Assembly Hall to accommodate social distancing. However, the second room would have a TV screen where attendees could watch the meeting’s live-stream video.

Since Assembly Hall is just part of Fulton’s reopening plan, which includes its court system, District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. asked Dr. Lynn Paxton, Fulton’s district health director and the county board of health’s leader, “Has the board been in contact with the judges about this?”

Paxton replied, “Yes. We’ve been in contact with the chief judge. They just recorded a PSA for the jurors (to watch) when they come back.”

Paxton said the county has met regularly with representatives of the Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools districts for months, and the Fulton district is concerned about the recent rise in COVID cases. District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann asked her what she attributes the rise in cases to.

“I think a lot of it is that this is something the natural history of a respiratory virus as you go into the fall season,” she said. “We also know, while we’re making strides with mask-wearing, a lot of people who are still not wearing and going to super spreader events. I anticipate there will be more of that as the weather gets colder. … Some of the other school systems are reconsidering their reopening plans, and some colleges are considering closing after Thanksgiving.”

Hausmann argued that if the Fulton district’s schools have reopened, so should the county’s libraries, which are currently only allowing drive-thru service.

“I think with our libraries, we should at least have partial (in-person) service in a number of areas,” she said.

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