DeKalb CEO: ‘Together, we will face the challenge’ of coronavirus

If there is a coronavirus outbreak in your community, here is how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends protecting yourself.

DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said officials are ready to do “whatever is necessary” to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Thurmond appeared alongside several county leaders at a town hall event to answer questions about COVID-19 and how DeKalb is responding. County officials said they expect more positive cases to come out of DeKalb, and offered tips for parents who are worried about the how the virus could affect local schools.

State officials announced after the town hall Wednesday night that two additional “presumed positive” cases were reported in DeKalb, bringing the total number of cases in the county to four. The means tests for COVID-19 at the Georgia Public Health Laboratory came back positive for the individuals, but the Centers for Disease Control has not yet confirmed them.

District Health Director S. Elizabeth Ford said she has “no idea” how many people in DeKalb have been tested, since the testing is done on the state level. But just because the CDC is located in DeKalb doesn’t mean the county has priority over testing.

DeKalb District Health Director Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford speaks at the virtual town hall.

Credit: Screenshot via DeKalb County

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Credit: Screenshot via DeKalb County

“We’re in the queue just like every other health department the nation,” Ford said.

Earlier this week, the event was shifted from an in-person talk to a “virtual town hall” due to health concerns over the virus. The town hall was streamed online and on local cable, and residents were allowed to submit questions over email or phone.

“Together, we will face the challenge. Together, we will overcome the challenge,” Thurmond said.

Health, education and public safety officials also spoke on the panel. Here is an overview of the information provided by each department head:

Board of Health

Ford provided a general overview of what COVID-19 is, how testing works and the best ways to prevent it from spreading.

“We have a limited number of tests in Georgia,” Ford said, pointing out that everyone who is concerned about contracting the disease “probably doesn't need to be tested” unless they are experiencing serious symptoms.

Ford expects testing will soon become more available, but that means DeKalb could see more positive cases.

“We as a community need to be prepared for what that looks like,” she said, “and how much we’re going to have to isolate people.”

The county is also making “special efforts” to reach out to nursing homes that house older residents to make sure they have appropriate protections and procedures in place, Ford said.

DeKalb County School District

Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said new parents or students coming from “high risk areas” should not go to any school or the district office. Instead, they should call the school district and discuss what to do.

The district also canceled all out-of-state trips or conferences for students and staff, and is embarking on in-state trips on a case-by-case basis. Schools are currently not planning any new in-state field trips.

Students or employees who are sick should not go to school or on field trips, Tyson said, urging parents of sick students to call the district instead of showing up in person. The district has also escalated cleaning procedures within its buildings and buses.

“We are prepared” if a school has to close and shift to “virtual learning,” Tyson said.

Public safety

DeKalb Public Safety Director Joseph “Jack” Lumpkin emphasized that the county has its own emergency management plan. DeKalb’s 911 operators have implemented procedures to respond calls from people who may have coronavirus to ensure they respond safely.

But he urged residents to not pepper 911 with questions about the virus if it is not an emergency.

“If you overload 911, then other services will not be able to perform,” Lumpkin said.

Elections

No members of the elections board spoke at the town hall, but Thurmond said the county is cleaning all of the touch-screen election machines and other surfaces voters may come in contact with. Early voting is currently underway for the March 24 presidential election primary and special election for DeKalb sheriff.

Tyson said 91 schools will be used as polling sites on Election Day. The district, she said, is taking a “serious look” at making March 24 a digital learning day, so students are not at school at the same time as voters. That is not yet confirmed, but the school district is expected to come to a decision next week.

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