All Fulton residents ordered to stay home or face jail/fines to curb COVID-19

March 27, 2020 Atlanta: GDOT electronic signs across the metro were displaying COVID-19 messages for motorists Monday morning, March 30, 2020, this one on NB I-85 near the Brookwood exchange. For the third day in a row, the number of new coronavirus cases has slowed significantly in Georgia, even as deaths continue to climb. There are now at least 2,809 confirmed cases of the virus statewide, according to the latest data released Monday by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The latest figures are an increase of less than 5% from Sunday’s cases, much less than the average daily growth the state saw last week. Eighty-seven Georgians have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel virus, up from 83 reported on Sunday. Less than one-third of those infected are hospitalized. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

After getting sobering projections of medical supply shortages and the worst case of 10 to 15 deaths per day in Fulton County from mid-April through mid-May, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners allocated $10 million in COVID-19 aid for residents Wednesday.

The county’s 1.1 million residents also learned that leaving their homes could mean a fine or jail time.

Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford, interim director of the Fulton County Board of Health, signed an order Tuesday saying violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and subject of fines up to $1,000 and/or 12 months in jail per offense. Her order came the day before Gov. Brian Kemp said he was readying a statewide shelter-in-place order to curb the deadly coronavirus, which has left thousands of Georgians sick and 139 dead as of Wednesday.

There are 15 cities in Fulton County, which have made various rules to curb the coronavirus. But Ford’s new order applies to every resident in the county.

READ | Banned funerals, shuttered shops: Local leaders confront global virus

There are exceptions for the homeless and also things like activities related to health, outdoor exercise and trips to the grocery store. The order does not shut down parks or recreational draws like the Atlanta BeltLine.

Each city police department, along with county police officers and deputies, can enforce the violation, said Fulton County attorney Patrise Perkins-Hooker.

The board of health can normally do things like shut down a restaurant with roaches, but its powers swell during a pandemic — they can limit travel into or within Georgia, impose isolation, close any facility or require vaccination, according to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.

Coronavirus in Georgia | Get the latest coverage from The AJC by clicking here.

Though the meeting started with technology problems that made the public comment section mostly unintelligible, commissioners approved the $10 million — $4.5 million of which will support residents and fund meals for seniors, $1.5 million to get those homeless and possibly infected into beds, and $4 million to help small businesses and feed the hungry.

There are three sources for the money: $2.4 million came from the fund for county employees performance-based bonuses, $2.6 million was deferred debt service related to Grady, and $4 million by delaying bonds to fund a new animal shelter.

The allocation followed a jarring presentation from Atlanta-Fulton County Emergency Management Agency officials on the possible death toll.

READ | Coronavirus causes changes to services throughout Fulton and cities

“That was one of the most sobering reports I have ever had in my life,” said Commissioner Liz Hausmann.

Doug Schuster, with emergency management firm Emergency Management Services International (EMSI), provided the best and worse case scenarios for several key variables in Fulton over the next two months. The projections, which account for how good of a job people do at social distancing, are based on Fulton already having 15% of the state’s cases and deaths.

Best case? Needing 20 ventilators, no hospital bed shortage and 215 deaths.

Worst case? A shortage of 128 ventilators, having no hospital beds for 721 sick folks and 602 people dying.

Among the most likely scenarios, Schuster said, was being short 480 hospital beds starting in a week. He said the county will likely be 75 ventilators short every day for a month, starting Monday.

READ | Resident at Cobb senior living facility tests positive for coronavirus

EMA Director Matthew Kallmyer said that if all this seems like an over-reaction but lives are saved, “that would be something we take pride in.”

John Haupert, the CEO of Grady Memorial Hospital, said their internal predictions show that Grady is set to lose $78 million due to the coronavirus.

“It puts Grady into a loss position. We haven’t seen that in years, but we haven’t had a pandemic either,” Haupert said.

Haupert warned commissioners that this might ripple out to their desks.

“I would not at this point rule out Grady needing to go to its two county partners for assistance,” he said.

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