After the funeral of 64-year-old Andrew J. Mitchell on Feb. 29, his relatives attended a repast, then gathered again at one of his sisters’ homes. Dozens of family members later fell ill. Pictured outside the sister’s home on that day are, left to right, Abrigail Johnson, Margaret Mansfield, Brenden Mansfield (baby), Jacqueline Mansfield, Dorothy Johnson, Tonya Thomas and Nakimbra Savage. Thomas is now in critical condition at Piedmont Fayette Hospital. SPECIAL

The Jolt: A plea for pandemic restrictions on funerals

State Rep. Rick Williams has a unique perch in the Georgia statehouse. Not only is he a funeral home director, but he won his Milledgeville-based seat by defeating another contender in the same line of work.

So when the GOP lawmaker speaks out about after-life policy, Georgia politicians tend to listen. And on Monday, he took his pleas to Gov. Brian Kemp, asking for clear directives on how funerals are conducted after a jumble of phone calls from concerned compatriots.

Two funerals have been linked to an outbreak in Albany that’s claimed several lives and sickened dozens. And cases elsewhere in the state have been traced to other religious services.

Williams, an ally of the governor, said some funeral homes are ignoring directives from an industry trade group, the National Funeral Directors Association, to maintain social distancing, limit the size of gatherings and ban indoor services. The group recommends graveside services only.

And some businesses “are telling families they can do anything they want,” he wrote to Kemp’s administration, urging that the governor send clear guidelines to every funeral home. Those that flout the regulations, he said, should have their licenses suspended. 

“In my 50 years of funeral service we have never witnessed anything of this magnitude,” he said, adding: “We have got to protect the public.”

To that point, the family of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who died Friday at age 98, has announced that a small, private family funeral service will be held for the civil rights legend -- with a larger public ceremony to be held once that danger has passed.

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On a related note: Florida officials have arrested the pastor of a megachurch after detectives say he held two Sunday services with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

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At the bottom of an AJC piece on modeling that shows the coronavirus pandemic peaking in Georgia on April 23 are these paragraphs that shouldn’t be overlooked:

The state’s largest nursing home and assisted living trade association estimates there are as many as 30 senior care facilities that have residents who’ve tested positive for the virus.

One of them, the Rome Health & Rehabilitation Center in North Georgia, confirmed on Monday that 11 residents have tested positive at the facility. Two residents are being treated at the hospital.

The danger is a broad one. Over at WABE (90.1FM), Sam Whitehead scored an interview with Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- which hasn’t held a press briefing since March 9. An important bit from the Q&A with Redfield:

One of the critical areas is, of course, long-term care facilities. We now have over 400 long-term care facilities in this nation that have now outbreaks. We’re constantly going into those care facilities trying to limit these outbreaks or obviously trying to prepare other assisted living centers.

“At the end of the day, most of us who get this infection will recover. The majority of people do — probably 98%, almost 98.5%, 99% recover. The challenge is the older, the vulnerable, the elderly, those with significant medical conditions where this virus has shown a propensity to have a significant mortality.

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Georgia election officials began mailing absentee ballot request forms Monday to the state’s 6.9 million active voters, making it easier for them to vote without having to show up in person, according to our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

Voters who fill out and return the request forms will then be mailed a ballot for the May 19 primary, which includes candidates for president, Congress, the Georgia General Assembly and county offices.

The state will spend up to $13 million to mail the applications and the requested ballots to voters, but the tab doesn’t include a 55-cent stamp needed to return the application or 65-cent stamps to mail back the ballots. That’s a problem, Democrat Stacey Abrams said Sunday:

“It’s not enough to say we want to vote by mail. We have to ensure they’re postage-paid,” said Abrams. “We don’t know if post offices will be open, and if people will have access to them. So we have to anticipate the problem.” 

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In endorsement news:

-- The Rev. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, has nabbed the support of U.S. Rep. John Lewis for his run for U.S. Senate. Lewis is the latest establishment Democratic figure to back Warnock’s campaign against U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. 

-- Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux earned the support from Elect Democratic Women in her bid for Georgia’s Seventh District. The group, founded in 2018, includes several influential Democratic congresswomen on its committee. 

-- The National Organization for Women Political Action Committee has endorsed Democrat Teresa Tomlinson’s push to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue. NOW bills itself as the largest grassroots feminist organization in the country.

-- Sarah Riggs Amico, another Democratic candidate attempting to unseat Perdue, was endorsed by Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. SMART is the fifth labor union to throw its backing to Amico. Others include the Southeastern Carpenters Regional Council, CWA National, IBEW Local 613 Atlanta, and Bricklayers Local 8 Southeast.

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U.S. Rep. Doug Collins is asking federal transportation officials to relax regulations for truckers in hopes of keeping more of them on the road during the coronavirus pandemic.

Collins’s letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says regulations requiring commercial driver license renewals and visits to doctors’ offices for physicals have become barriers during this time of increased consumer demand for products and food. 

Collins wrote that many Georgia truckers have complained to him about how deadlines to comply with the rules have taken them off the road recently, where they lose ground with deliveries and risk contact with the virus. He requested a grace period to give truckers more time to meet the requirements and remain eligible.

“While these regulations are important for trucker and driver safety, this abnormal situation requires us to adapt to keep truckers safe and moving,” Collins wrote. “In order to keep truckers on the road and keep necessary products in American households and grocery stores, I ask that the FMCSA consider loosening regulations that are difficult for truckers to comply with during the coronavirus outbreak.”

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