DeKalb CEO says county will distribute masks to thousands of residents

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond answers questions to residents of Oakhurst during the meeting were residents received the latest information about the plans for the county’s upcoming sewer projects on and around Green Street on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond answers questions to residents of Oakhurst during the meeting were residents received the latest information about the plans for the county’s upcoming sewer projects on and around Green Street on Tuesday, March 10, 2020. MIGUEL MARTINEZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said Thursday the county plans to distribute hand sanitizer and masks to thousands of residents.

Distribution will begin Saturday and focus on economically disadvantaged communities, Thurmond said. Sanitizer and around 10,000 nonsurgical masks will be given out in care packages over the course of six weeks.

Cadets and trainees from the DeKalb police and fire departments will handle the distribution.

"Sheltering in place is by far the most successful and effective prevention strategy," Thurmond told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But once that's removed, then you have to redouble your efforts in other areas."

The CEO made his revelation the same day Gov. Brian Kemp announced he would lift his statewide shelter-in-place order for most Georgians. Like last week's announcement allowing the reopening of certain businesses shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, the governor's orders prevent local officials from putting any more stringent virus-related restrictions in place.

Thurmond has said he’s praying the governor’s actions are the right ones — but preparing as if they’re not.

He said the county began stockpiling masks and other supplies weeks before Kemp issued his initial state of emergency declaration in March. Joseph Cox, leader of the DeKalb Emergency Management Agency, made the suggestion when outbreaks of the coronavirus started surfacing on the West Coast, Thurmond said.

DeKalb County has seen the second-highest total of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state. Zip code-level data provided by the local health department suggests the county reflects larger nationwide trends, with areas with higher levels of poverty and larger black populations feeling the brunt of the virus.

“I ride through communities in DeKalb County where less than 25% of the people are wearing masks,” Thurmond said. “They're not socially distancing and they're not wearing masks. It's a ticking time bomb.”

Thurmond, a former state legislator and labor commissioner, has publicly grappled with the economic fallout of the pandemic. But he has also criticized the governor’s approach.

Thurmond last week issued an order urging reopening businesses like hair and nail salons to take preventative measures beyond those recommended by Kemp.

He said Thursday that lifting the shelter-in-place order “makes the challenge at the local level exponentially more difficult than what it was."

"I sure do miss those Republicans who really loved local control," said Thurmond, a Democrat. "I really miss that Republican Party."