The Euharlee City Council spent the majority of Tuesday evening’s called public meeting discussing the municipality’s protocols for COVID-19.
“Bartow County is listed as one of the counties with high transmission rates and is in the red zone,” said Katie Gobbi, a representative of Euharlee’s COVID-19 task force. “On a call with [the Georgia Municipal Association] they used the term ‘uncontrolled spread.’”
Gobbi noted that at least two part-time City staff had tested positive for the coronavirus over the last few months. Euharlee City Manager James Stephens said one local government employee was in intensive care for two weeks.
She also indicated that at least four staff members have had family members test positive for COVID-19, including two who reside in the same households as City employees.
Citing data from a White House Coronavirus Task Force report from earlier this month, Gobbi said Bartow County had 312 confirmed cases per 100,000 people over the previous two weeks.
“So this map is getting redder each week that we receive it,” she told council members. Furthermore, she said a Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) report indicated that regional hospitals, as of Tuesday, were at 92% capacity for general inpatient beds.
“ICU is about 77%,” she said. “Those are just indicators and factors that are helpful for when determining what needs to be done.”
That prompted a discussion about establishing new COVID-19 protocols for Euharlee employees. City workers who do not comply with the measures, Gobbi said, would be charged paid time off for infractions.
“If an employee tests positive or is presumed positive by a medical professional, that employee will have to isolate and stay home from work until the following criteria is met,” she said. “Ten days since first symptoms appeared, 24 hours fever free without fever-reducing medication and a negative COVID test result.”
She also said that City employees who are in "close contact" with those confirmed or presumed to have COVID-19 — defined as “within six feet for 15 minutes or more, with or without a face covering” — are required to obtain a negative rapid test within five to seven days of the initial exposure and display no symptoms during quarantine before returning to work.
Meanwhile, City of Euharlee employees who have members of their immediate household who test positive are required to quarantine for 14 days from the date of the positive test. Before being allowed to return to work, those employees would have to take a rapid COVID-19 test between the 11th and 14th day of the quarantine.
In the interim, Gobbi noted that both Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and State guidelines recommend teleworking and staggered shifts, when possible and practical.
The rapid tests, she said, are covered 100% under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for City employees. However, she said that those test results are not currently included in the DPH counts the local government receives on a daily basis.
“As more and more rapid tests are occurring, that changes the reality of the numbers a little bit,” she said.
Stephens said the proliferation of rapid testing is a game changer when it comes to the City’s response to COVID-19 cases.
“When we had some of the earlier exposures, we actually had people out for a full 14 days,” he said. “The testing was so slow, 14 days expired before we got the test results.”
Continuing, Stephens said he’s seen no indication that any Euharlee employees were infected via their work activities.
“And we continue to be diligent with masks, social distancing washing our hands,” he said, “you can take all the precautions in the world, but it is an extremely contagious virus.”
Citing information relayed to the City by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Stephens said he anticipates “a second spread” hitting the community.
“I don’t think it’s going away on Nov. 4,” he told the council. “I just want to be on record that ya’ll see what we’re trying to do to protect citizens and staff and get your input — is it too lenient, is it too restrictive?”
Stephens recommended that the City’s administrative staff telework on Nov. 3. That day, Euharlee City Hall will be used as an Election Day polling place. He said the building would be decontaminated and reopen the following morning at 10 a.m.
Council members, however, did not cancel a planned public meeting set for the same day. So as to not coincide with the Election Day activities, the council voted to host that regularly scheduled meeting at the Emmie Nelson Public Library facility at 116 Covered Bridge Road.
There was a brief discussion on the subject of the City’s rental properties — specifically, several facilities that had already been booked for the week of Thanksgiving.
Stephens asked council members what they thought about issuing refunds and shutting down those properties until “we get out of winter time.”
Throughout the year, he noted that the City was only allowing customers to rent out the facilities once per weekend.
“We lost a substantial amount of money doing that, as a result of it,” he said. “But I do believe we have a public responsibility.”
Councilman David Duncan said he had concerns about the possible legal ramifications of renting out those properties.
“I don’t want us to be sued, and I don’t see where it’s going to hurt us to lose four rooms,” he said. “I don’t want anybody else to get sick because of it, because somebody else had it the day before.”
Councilman Tim Abbott also weighed in on the matter.
“Unless we just have some really, really big breakouts and things get worse than even what Katie reported on, I’d like to see us continue to make reasonable decisions for our citizens,” he said.
No council members, however, made any motions to formally adopt any of the protocols discussed at Tuesday evening’s meeting — nor were any of the items approved via a traditional council vote.
“If no one makes a motion, I’m going to leave the rentals as is and I’m going to send an additional notification to the families that these are back-to-back,” Stephens said. “And I’m going to enforce these protocols on employees returning to work when they are in close contact with someone who has it.”
Members of the council also voted to change the City’s health insurance and employee benefit package, which is set to expire on Dec. 1.
“I’m asking the council to consider increasing funding of $4,900 annually to renew the alternate one rather than the renewal,” Stephens said. “The renewal was actually $1,000 less than our current policy … but it would be less coverage for the insurance, for the employees.”
Whereas the renewal deductible is $4,000, Stephens said the alternate plan deductible adopted by council vote is $2,500.
Speaking with City staff, he said the employee consensus was to go with the alternate plan.
“The alternate one actually requires a 20% co-insurance that the employee would have to provide,” he added. “Even with that, the $2,500 deductible would be more advantageous for employees that may need, for some reason, to have a CAT scan or a MRI during the year but for the most part, they’re relatively healthy.”
Gobbi also informed the council that the local government was recently awarded $5,000 from the Georgia Power Foundation.
“It really strengthens their commitment to the Black Pioneers Cemetery,” she said. “Also, those funds will go to ground penetrating radar to do that for the entire cemetery … and it will also fund historically appropriate grave markers for all the graves that are indicated.”