Fulton prepares for coronavirus, and plans for the worst

Fulton County government leaders said Wednesday they are planning for the worst while doing their best to prevent a widespread coronavirus problem.

The day before, state health officials announced that a Fulton father and his 15-year-old son contracted the deadly virus while traveling in Italy, making them the first cases in the state.

“This is the first of many. I imagine we’re going to get more,” Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford, interim director of the Fulton health department, told commissioners Wednesday.

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She gave the board an overview of what the county is doing to slow the virus, like adding extra hand sanitizer stations to polling places during early voting and wiping down the containers where guests place their keys while going through security to enter the Pryor Street county government building.

The illness, known as COVID-19, gives recipients symptoms similar to the flu — fever, coughing and, sometimes, pneumonia and shortness of breath. The disease started in China, where the mortality rate is 2%. It has spread throughout the world, sickening tens of thousands of people.

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Ford said she is more concerned about the seasonal flu, which came early last year. Even still, she and her staff are preparing for the coronavirus by doing things like fitting medical workers with specialized face masks and running drills. She said there’s a chance they will put in place drive-through vaccinations at clinics if the virus spreads.

Ford said there are misconceptions that don’t help, and she wants to hire a public information officer specifically for situations like this. Ford said she was going to meet with human resource staff later Wednesday.

Commissioner Natalie Hall asked Ford how many vacancies her department had. County staff said there were 60 unfilled positions.

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“We are having a health epidemic, and we need the outreach into the communities, so we need to resolve that issue as quickly as possible,” Hall said.

Alton Adams, Fulton’s deputy chief operating officer, told reporters after the meeting that he and other county staff are formulating a plan in case the number of cases increase.

He said the county has identified 300-400 essential staff of the county’s 4,000 employees who would work from remote locations, like the county airport or libraries. Adams said he is meeting with officials from the sheriff’s office and the courts on Thursday to talk about next steps.

Josh Waites claimed he had a 2-year degree.