Shaw temporarily closes Bartow plants; Gambill tests positive but says he's recovered

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Shaw announced Thursday it is temporarily closing its Bartow County manufacturing facilities — Plants 12, 13, 15, T1 and 94.

The company expects the facilities to reopen early next week, and Shaw Chief Human Resources Officer Mike Fromm said employees will be paid for their normal schedule during the facility closing. 

"Our associates’ health and well-being are our top priorities as we continually and carefully evaluate the operation of each of our facilities,” the company said in a statement. "Bartow County is among the top five counties in Georgia with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Four Shaw associates working in manufacturing facilities there have tested positive for the virus. All are under the care of a medical provider. Any associates with direct contact with any confirmed or suspected cases are following quarantine guidelines." 

Shaw said the plants will undergo "thorough third-party cleaning according to CDC and OSHA guidelines to supplement the enhanced, extensive cleaning processes that occur at all Shaw facilities.”

Meanwhile, State Representative Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville) informed The Daily Tribune News Thursday he tested positive for COVID-19, but says he has recovered after a period of self-quarantine since March 13.

Gambill said he learned he had been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus, and then got tested himself on March 16, with his results coming back Thursday. 

He did not attend the Special Session on Monday, but said he experienced only mild symptoms and remains in isolation at home. 

Statewide, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp spoke at a coronavirus town hall Thursday night, saying he has so far decided not to order a shelter-in-place because, "I'm having to govern the whole state,” citing differences in the severity of the outbreak in different locations in Georgia.

Meanwhile, Bartow County only saw a modest increase in confirmed positive cases Thursday. As of 7 p.m., Bartow had 11 more confirmed cases of the virus to make a total of 93, behind Fulton (231), Dougherty (164), Dekalb (137) and Cobb (119), according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Cartersville Medical Center said Thursday it currently has eight patients who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and remain as inpatients. There are 32 patients currently in house who are pending test results.

As of noon Thursday, 473 people were hospitalized because of the virus, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. The state is reporting 1,643 confirmed cases, though testing has been limited and results can sometimes take days to receive.

Of the state's 56 confirmed deaths, 17 have been in southwest Georgia, and other regional counties also have high infection rates.

Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest District Director Gary Voccio said the 10-county Northwest Health District is home to about six percent of Georgia’s population but currently has about nine percent of the total state COVID-19 cases.

— Georgia's weekly unemployment filings more than doubled to nearly 12,000 for the week that ended March 21, but did not increase nearly as much as those nationwide or in neighboring states, according to federal data. Georgia Department of Labor spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright said that the state expects a sharp increase in processed claims this week after streamlining its processing systems.

Also on Thursday, Kemp signed an executive order allowing the Georgia Department of Labor to pay 26 weeks of benefits while Georgia's state of emergency continues. That reverses a cut to as low as 14 weeks that lawmakers made in 2012.

Another emergency rule issued by Labor Commissioner Mark Butler allows someone to make up to $300 a week in wages and still receive a full unemployment payment, worth up to $330 a week.

The state earlier waived requirements that people look for work to receive benefits and said it would provide benefits for some people who had to stay home because of the virus threat.

— On Thursday, Kemp announced an extension of an order to keep the state’s public schools closed through April 24, closing public colleges and universities for the rest of the semester. Many school districts had already decided to extended closures on their own after an earlier order signed by Kemp that banned gatherings of 10 or more people.

With schools closed, the Georgia state Board of Education on Thursday waived a series of state rules and laws in moves that will let school districts graduate seniors and promote other students even if coursework is incomplete. Many of Georgia’s 180 local school systems were already exempt from most of the rules under earlier flexibility agreements, but the move extends the flexibility to all. The state also changed the fee structure for enrolling students in online classes offered by the Georgia Virtual School.

— The virus also continued to spread inside Georgia's jails and prisons. Fulton County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said Thursday that four more inmates had tested positive. The four men, ranging in age from 33 to 65, are being treated in quarantine together at the jail. The sheriff’s office announced Monday that an inmate in his 30s had tested positive and was hospitalized.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.