Coronavirus cases in Bartow County made a rapid increase Friday, jumping Cobb County for the second-most in the state with 54 case as of 7 p.m., only behind Fulton County’s 88.
From noon to 7 p.m. on Friday, the figure of reported cases of COVID-19 in Bartow went from 40 to 54.
The state Department of Public Health reported 485 cases in the state, a big jump from the 287 cases reported on Thursday. Fourteen patients have died from coronavirus, up from 10 the previous day.
Coronavirus now has expanded to more than 50 Georgia counties.
According to the state Department of Public Health’s noon report, despite elderly Georgians being considered most vulnerable to contracting the virus, 41% of those testing positive for coronavirus were between the ages of 18 and 59. Thirty-three percent of the current cases were Georgians 60 years of age or older.
Between the state and private labs, 2,386 Georgians have been tested for coronavirus. Gov. Brian Kemp and state health officials are calling for prioritizing the limited number of available test kits so that the elderly, health-care workers and other first responders are tested first.
While Kemp has not imposed a mandatory stay-home order, a strategy the governors of California and New York have resorted to during the last two days, he is urging Georgians to practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently. The governor is leaving decisions on closing businesses up to local governments and the companies themselves.
Shaw employee tests positive
Shaw Industries confirmed that an employee at Cartersville’s Plant 12 tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday.
Chief Human Resources Officer Mike Fromm told The Daily Tribune News that the plant has been temporarily closed, with a third-party vendor brought in to provide “a thorough cleaning” of the facility off Joe Frank Harris Parkway in accordance to steps recommended by both Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.
“Other associates who had close contact with the associate who tested positive will self-quarantine for 14 calendar days prior to returning to work,” Fromm stated in an email.
Those employees, he continued, will receive paid leave at their normal scheduled work shift pay rates — for up two two weeks —“to ensure they have the time they need to heal without worrying about lost pay.”
Fromm said all employees dismissed at the plant Friday will be paid for a full shift. COVID-19 testing, he added, is covered “in full” by the company’s health care plan.
He said Shaw will continue to evaluate opportunities to support its employees, across all of its plants in Bartow, as the coronavirus outbreak continues.
“We are encouraging our people to carefully self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath,” he said. “It is imperative if they experience any symptoms to contact their health care provider for treatment as soon as possible.
Fromm said he anticipates operations at the plant resuming by Monday.
City, County implement changes to services
The City of Cartersville, in response to the Coronavirus outbreak, will be implementing changes to its services. City staff will be working on rotating shifts, yard waste and recycling services will be suspended, bulk lead pick-up will be suspended and the customer service drive-thru will be closed from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The City notes there will be no utility service disruption related to the COVID19. However, residents are being told to be aware there may be a response delay in service calls.
Also on Friday, Bartow County announced the offices for property tax and motor vehicle taxes will be closed to walk-in traffic, beginning Monday. There will be a drop box at the entrance to the courthouse for property tax, mobile home payments and regular tag renewals.
Kemp orders for more emergency funding among other state measures
Gov. Brian Kemp Friday ordered more than $19.5 million transferred from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to go toward the state’s response to coronavirus.
Before suspending the 2020 legislative session last week because of the pandemic, the General Assembly added $100 million at the governor’s request to the mid-year state budget to deal with the crisis. The governor signed the spending plan earlier this week.
The money will help the state Department of Public Health and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency buy medical supplies and equipment.
Also on Friday, Kemp filled out the rosters of four committees he announced last month when he formed a Coronavirus Task Force of state agency heads, legislators, business leaders, health-care executives and other subject matter experts. Separately, the committees will address the economic impact of coronavirus, emergency preparedness, primary care providers and how coronavirus is affecting Georgia’s homeless.
"In February, we formed the Coronavirus Task Force with a focus on preparing for COVID-19 and its effects,” Kemp said. "Now, as we mitigate the spread of the virus, these committees will address the specific impacts that COVID-19 will have on communities, industry sectors, our health-care system, and emergency preparedness."
John King, the state’s insurance commissioner, banned health insurers from canceling policies because of missed payments until further notice, and banned property insurers from canceling business policies, including those that cover lost income, for 60 days.
Georgia has opened at least 13 drive-thru locations for virus testing and plans more. Kemp says priority for tests is being given to those at highest risk — the elderly, people who already have chronic illnesses, those in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and first responders such as paramedics.
State school testing to be suspended, funds used for medical supplies
Two state leaders on Friday announced decisions made, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, regarding school testing and funding for medical supplies.
Following an announcement from the U.S. Department of Education that invited states to request waivers from federal assessment requirements, State School Superintendent Richard Woods affirmed that the Georgia Department of Education will immediately apply for a waiver from assessment requirements in 2020.
Educators, parents and students can expect that no state testing – including Georgia Milestones, GAA 2.0 and GKIDS – will be administered in Georgia this year.
On March 16, Woods suspended the state assessment window along with teacher and leader evaluation requirements and state-level, attendance-related consequences.
“It has been become more and more clear that there is not a realistic path to administer state tests this year, and Georgia and other states have urged the federal government to make waivers available,” Woods said in a news release. “I thank them for doing so, and Georgians can be assured we will seek the maximum flexibility available. Students, parents and educators should be spending this time learning, growing and weathering this storm together – not preparing for a test.”
At the State Board of Education meeting Thursday, the superintendent will recommend a package of waivers for school districts, including suspending the 20% course grade requirement for the Georgia Milestones end-of-course tests.
Secretary of State encourages all to support local businesses
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is encouraging all who are financially able to support local businesses during this COVID-19 pandemic. Raffensperger encourages people who are able to support these businesses by purchasing gift cards to use at a later date, by shopping locally online and by ordering curbside or takeout.
"The Coronavirus pandemic has devastated many small businesses throughout the country and at home in Georgia. In Georgia, 99.7% of registered businesses are classified as small. These businesses employ thousands of Georgians and help our local economies thrive,” a press release from Raffensperger’s office said on Friday.
"With the current hardships facing small businesses and the unforeseen future, we must come together to lift up our local economies,” he said in the statement. “You can help your local businesses without leaving the comfort of your own home. Give them a call or email asking to purchase a gift card.”
On Wednesday, Governor Brian Kemp announced that Georgia has received small business relief from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
— The Daily Tribune News’ James Swift, Capitol Beat News Service and The Associated Press contributed to this report.