Amid health concerns due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Fulton County government is establishing a curfew, but it’s in a limited area.
Going from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day and effective immediately, it will only impact residents in unincorporated Fulton (the Fulton Industrial District in the southwestern part of the county).
At its monthly meeting April 1, the Fulton Board of Commissioners voted to approve a resolution to establish the curfew and order residents in that area to shelter in place. The meeting took place at Assembly Hall, but all but one commissioner participated from home virtually due to the virus.
While the board’s curfew has limits, the administrative order Dr. Elizabeth Ford, the Fulton Board of Health’s CEO, issued March 31 to require everyone in the county to shelter in place is Fulton-wide. At the meeting the board also voted to ratify Ford's order.
It means all residents should practice social distancing and stay home except to go to work or to carry out essential functions such as going to the grocery store, to pick up a meal from a restaurant or to go to the pharmacy. Violators of the order can be fined up to $1,000 and/or serve up to 12 months in jail.
During the meeting Ford gave an update on the county’s response to the virus.
“We have a 30% positivity rate, which is the same as DeKalb County,” she said of individuals being tested for the virus.
Ford said the county is working with CVS pharmacy on a pilot program to get a faster coronavirus testing kit since there have been some delays with the state-issued kits. She also said church services and funerals are the major ways the virus is spread and is glad all houses of worship have postponed funerals and are hosting services online only.
During the meeting’s public comment portion (though the public wasn’t allowed to attend the meeting they could submit comments online), of the 23 individuals speaking about virus, nine were from residents urging the county to enact a shelter-in-place order and/or curfew.
“Since Fulton County has the most (coronavirus) cases, a shelter-in-place order should be given,” said Helen Mansell of Roswell.
That agenda item was just one of a handful related to the virus. The board also voted 6-0, with District 5 Commissioner Marvin Arrington Jr. abstaining, to approve allocating $10 million in emergency funding to provide emergency support in three key categories.
“My recommendation was to scour the 2020 budget and find $10 million for, number one, senior services, particularly food, since we get calls every day about it; number two, homelessness; and number three, small business loans,” said board chair Robb Pitts, who located the portions of the budget where those funds could be pulled.
Chief Financial Officer Sharon Whitmore explained what specifically the funds would pay for.
“There is $2.4 million for pay for performance bonuses, debt issuance for the Grady surgical center, structured it so the county would not incur anymore debt in 2020 and deferred that payment to February, to free up $3.6 million, and lastly we had built into the 2020 budget a third part of a Fulton County redevelopment bond for facilities ($4 million),” she said.
According to a county document presented at the meeting, the emergency funding is broken down to three parts: $4.5 million for resident support (meals for seniors and other assistance to seniors and residents in need), $1.5 million for homelessness (isolation/quarantine and testing) and $4.0 million for economic development (small business relative assistance loans and food insecurity and economic assistance).
Arrington motioned for two amendments to the emergency funds: first, to allocate a specific amount to arts organizations impacted by the virus crisis and second, to increase the amount for small businesses loans from $1.5 million to $2.5 million.
District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris objected, saying he’s opposed to setting a dollar amount on how much the arts organizations could get but is in favor of them being included in the group of nonprofits eligible for the loans.
That vote was denied 4-3, with Commissioners Liz Hausmann, Bob Ellis, Morris and Pitts voting no and Commissioners Joe Carn, Natalie Hall and Arrington voting yes.
In a presentation on the county’s incident response management team update on the coronavirus, team leaders said Fulton has 1.1 million residents and about a tenth of Georgia’s population and 15% of the state’s COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Long-range planning assumptions for coronavirus cases for Fulton’s population include 20% for the best case, 35% for the most probable and 60% for worst case.
One official said the county will need up to 4,673 staffed beds and 5,460 licensed beds to deal with the projected number of coronavirus patients its hospitals will admit. The number of COVID-19 deaths is projected at 215 for best case, 395 for most probable and 599 for worst case. The most probable scenario projects a 480-bed shortage for hospitals.
“That was one of the most sobering reports I’ve ever heard in my life,” Hausmann said of the presentation.
During a separate COVID-19 update on Grady Memorial Hospital, Grady Health System CEO John Haupert said the total hospital beds needed statewide for coronavirus patients is 8,200 and 8,300 are available. As of noon April 1, there were 4,638 Georgians who contracted the virus and 139 deaths.
Haupert said Grady tested 69 patients for the virus March 31, with 15 testing positive but only six being admitted to the hospital. He added said Grady’s estimates on its financial losses due to the virus are $12 million a month and $78 million overall.
“We’ve not seen that in 10 years,” Haupert said. “… We may have to go to Grady’s two county partners (Fulton and DeKalb) or assistance.”