The Fulton County government is doing what it can to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“It’s been all hands on deck to address the county’s needs,” County Attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker said.
At the Fulton Board of Commissioners’ March 18 meeting at Assembly Hall in downtown Atlanta, the county took another step in that process by having the board vote 4-3 to approve declaring a state of emergency in the county. Commissioners Robb Pitts, Liz Hausmann, Bob Ellis and Lee Morris voted yes and Commissioners Natalie Hall, Marvin Arrington Jr. and Joe Carn voted no.
Due to the virus, at least one commissioner participated in the meeting remotely, Assembly Hall was closed to the public (residents could make comments via email) and it was recorded via teleconference call instead of live-streaming video. The state of emergency means Fulton will have access to federal funds not normally available as it deals with the virus.
Carn tried to amend the ordinance so the state of emergency would last for 30 days to match the public health emergency Gov. Brian Kemp declared for Georgia March 14, but the board’s vote on that change failed 4-3. Instead, the ordinance states it will last “until further notice.”
Arrington wanted to amend the ordinance to include a monetary limit on the funds County Manager Dick Anderson and Pitts were authorized to allocate under the state of emergency. But after Anderson told him about Fulton’s emergency procurement process, which is in effect year-round for things like fixing a pipe that burst, Arrington withdrew the motion.
“If it relates to any authority needed, I have been told by law that our emergency procurement process has worked quite well,” Anderson said. “If we have emergency procurement, we are notified immediately and it’s ratified at the next board meeting. I’m not sure what added benefits this represents. I’m fine with what we have for emergency procurement.”
Also at the meeting, Dr. Elizabeth Ford, the county’s interim district health director, gave an update on the virus.
“As of 8 a.m. today, there are 182 cases statewide. Fulton has 44 confirmed and 51 pending,” she said. “As testing becomes more widely available, expect those numbers to increase dramatically. We have a lot of labs testing. We are no longer required to submit tests to the CDC for confirmation, so that quickly speeds up our ability to test for the virus.”
Ford said the state has 500 coronavirus testing kits and is distributing them to Georgia’s 18 health districts.
“We’re planning our first drive-through testing collection (site) this afternoon,” she said. “If you have been diagnosed by a doctor or showing symptoms, you can come get tested. You will be provided a PUI (person under investigation) number,” she said.
Ford added that after healthcare professionals, first responders, the elderly and those working with them, the homeless are the most vulnerable individuals when it comes to the virus.
“We’re also trying to identify methods where we can have the homeless population tested because they are very vulnerable based on where they live,” she said. “Then if they test positive, we want to isolate them. We have been identifying facilities where they could be isolated.”
Arrington asked where the drive-through location is, and Ford said she couldn’t divulge that information because she wants it to be inconspicuous and not attract a huge number of residents wanting to get tested.
“We’re hoping that one day we can have a more public event where residents can be tested,” Ford said. “I don’t think we’ll be to the point where every resident can get tested.”
Arrington raised concerns about the roughly 2,000 inmates at the county jail being susceptible to the virus, but Ford said none of the prisoners have tested positive for it. She added some possible locations to isolate and quarantine residents who do test positive are college dorms, since school is out due to the virus, hotel rooms or the Atlanta Detention Center, which is not being used.