Bartow County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Dwayne Jamison confirmed that “National Guard assets” have arrived in the community at a press conference Friday afternoon.
Jamison, who also serves as the chief of the Bartow County Fire Department, said those “assets” have been assigned to three unspecified long-term care facilities “to assist them with cleaning and disinfecting procedures and to train their employees.”
While Jamison said the assistance was requested by the long-term care facilities, he refused to publicly identify them.
“Emergency management is not going to release information on those individual facilities unless they ask us to do that through the joint information center,” he said. “That’ll be up to the individual facilities to release that information.”
Jamison indicated the EMA remains in touch “daily” with Bartow’s personal care homes.
“We’ve picked up deliveries where they’ve requested personal protective equipment (PPE) for their staff,” he said. “We made a delivery, I think, just [Thursday], if I’m not mistaken, to some of those personal care homes and we continue to look out for their needs and facilitate requests on their behalf, as well.”
On Friday the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) announced that at least two long-term care facilities in Bartow — Maple Ridge and Townsend Park, both in Cartersville — have confirmed COVID-19 cases.
But that’s the extent of the information the State agency is publicizing, with no additional data on how many confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported at the facilities.
“We are seeing more cases in our Northwest Georgia counties coming out of assisted-living facilities,” said DPH representative Logan Boss. “Our local partners are in constant contact with these facilities, they know what the CDC guidelines and requirements are and all of them are following those.”
As of 2 p.m. Friday, Jamison said Bartow had 154 confirmed COVID-19 cases and three coronavirus-related deaths.
Just hours later, however, the DPH updated those numbers to 159, with the number of countywide COVID-19 deaths doubling to six. DPH data indicates all of the COVID-19 deaths in Bartow are males, with the youngest being 56 and the oldest listed as 90.
“We expect to see more cases as we do more testing, and sadly, more deaths,” Boss said. “Beyond that, I can’t really comment on any county-specific increases.”
By midday Saturday Bartow's total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased to 160. At that time, the DPH indicated the county's coronavirus-related death toll was now seven.
“The good news is Bartow County is seeing a slow increase in confirmed cases and the number of hospitalizations that we have at Cartersville Medical Center,” Jamison said, stressing the word “slow.”
At this point, he said the county is seeing anywhere from one to 10 new confirmed cases per day.
Cartersville Medical Center CEO Chris Mosley, who was present at the first two EMA weekly press conferences, did not attend Friday’s event. Instead, representing CMC was emergency management coordinator Adam Rogers.
As of Friday afternoon, he said the local hospital had 13 COVID-19-positive inpatients, with an additional 27 in-house patients who are suspected — but not confirmed — to have the coronavirus.
Three COVID-19-positive patients at CMC, he said, were on ventilators.
“We have implemented strict controls on PPE utilization and this has lowered [our] PPE utilization burn rate,” Rogers said. “As of now we have an adequate supply of appropriate PPE and have not had to resort to alternative PPE such as homemade masks or cloth masks.”
He said the hospital is in the process of changing lab vendors.
“We continue to disaster plan and assess supplies, equipment and alternative sites of care in the event patient volume goes well beyond our current capacity,” he said. “Staff [morale] remains high and we continue to be sustained by the love and support of our community.”
Over the past week Jamison said the EMA has received one shipment of PPE through a Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Department of Homeland Security request.
Still, he said local law enforcement agencies are in “dire” need of protective equipment, adding that officers currently have “little-to-none” available.
“We have assisted Bartow Public Health with delivering a number of supply deliveries to Cartersville Medical Center and some of our long-term care facilities here throughout the county,” he said. “So as those come in regionally, they contact the local emergency management agency here and we send trucks over to get those supplies and disseminate them throughout the county where they need to go.”
Jamison said the EMA is finalizing work on a “surge plan” with CMC — i.e., a strategy to address potential overcrowding at the local hospital.
“We hope to have that done soon,” he said. “We remain manageable with the number of cases that we have, we remain in good shape at our hospital.”
Just hours before Friday’s EMA conference, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order allowing Georgia’s sheriffs and their deputies to be “authorized to enforce the closure of businesses, establishments, corporations, nonprofit corporations or organizations” that do not comply with his “shelter-in-place” edict issued earlier in the week.
Executive order 04.02.20.01 took effect Friday evening and is set to expire on April 13.
“It is further ordered this order should take reasonable steps to provide notice and a reasonable time to allow businesses, establishments, corporations, nonprofit corporations and organizations the opportunity to comply with directions from sheriffs or their deputies prior to mandating closure,” Kemp’s order reads. “If one or more of the provisions contained in this order shall be held to be invalid, in violation of the Georgia Constitution, in violation of Georgia law, or unenforceable in any respect, such invalidity, violation or unenforceability shall not affect any other provisions of this order.”
“I appreciate Gov. Kemp doing what he did [Thursday], applying this ordinance to the entire state,” said Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor. “Citizens will continue, I’m sure, to call in the City and the County to report violators of this statewide ordinance, but as of yet we haven’t gotten a contact number to refer those citizens to the State … I’m thinking that should be coming any time now.”
Any noncompliance filings received by the County government, Taylor said, will be available as public records.
“When our officers are sworn in, they’re sworn in to uphold the laws of the United States, the State of Georgia and local ordinances,” said Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini. “The enforcement arm is supposed to be brought by the State, but at the same time, our local police and sheriff’s department are going to be out there actively upholding the laws of the State of Georgia and the local ordinances, as well.”
Bartow County EMA public information officer Alex Wright read a brief statement from City of White Mayor Kim Dupree Billue.
“We asked our citizens to place an ‘OK' sign in a window facing the road to let the neighbors and officers on patrol know that everything is good,” she was quoted. “They were also given a ‘help’ sign to put out if they needed assistance — the participation has been overwhelming.”
The statement also indicated that a planned April 6 city council meeting has been cancelled. White's City park remains closed, with April 17 traffic court dates within the municipality rescheduled for May 15.
Bartow County Health Department Nurse Manager Cyndi Carter said the local agency remains focused on essential services, adding that no health department employees to date have tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We all know that there is a community spread of the COVID-19, and anyone can currently be infected, even if they are not showing symptoms,” she said. “Most people, more than 80% who have come down with the COVID-19, especially those under 50, have mild symptoms and are able to recover at home. However, if you are very sick with life-threatening measures such as breathing problems or persistent pain in your chest, please be sure to seek medical attention immediately and call ahead if possible.”
She urged residents to continue following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and the “governing directions” of state and local officials on “shelter-in-place” restrictions.
“Bartow County continues to fall on the list of counties within Georgia that have positive COVID-19 cases,” Wright said. “This is information we can only attribute to the outstanding efforts of our citizens and their ability to adhere to the social distancing standards, as well as the remarkable efforts from our health care professionals within our community.”
Boss gave an update on the status of public COVID-19 testing.
“We wish it were going on faster, we wish we had more testing capability,” he said. “Public health, we still get test kits on an irregular basis and we don’t always know how many are going to show up at any given time. But when those do, we’re still operating some specimen-collection sites around our district, including one here in Bartow. And we’re getting more people that physicians are sending to these test sites … so far, we haven’t had any problems with not having enough specimen-collection kits on hand to do what we need to do.”
Test results, Boss said, are still taking several days to process.
“Many of our private health care facilities are still doing their own testing,” he said. “I can’t comment on availability at these places, but in Northwest Georgia, we don’t have that many hospitals — we’ve got seven, really, in our 10 counties, and one of those is actually based in Tennessee.”
“To go to one of our public health testing sites you have to see a physician, you have to get a number from the physician and you’re directed to that site where your specimen is collected and sent off for testing,” he said.
Boss urged individuals displaying possible COVID-19 symptoms to contact their physicians in advance.
“I think the reasons for that are obvious,” he said. “We don’t want to infect people in our health care facilities, if possible.”