Monday, March 23, 2020

Oconee County Now Has 5 Confirmed COVID-19 Cases, Clarke Has 16; Medical Professionals Urge County To Issue Shelter-In-Place Order

***Commission Chair Said Considering Citizen Input***

UPDATE: Oconee County added two new cases of confirmed COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, as did Clarke County. The number of cases in Oconee is now 5, and it is 16 in Clarke. Barrow County still only the one confirmed case. Walton, Morgan and Greene counties now also are reporting a single case, as is Madison County. The number of cases in the state has increased 32.9 percent in the last 24 hours and now stands at 1,026. The chart below summarizes those data. I will update it again after the 7 p.m. Daily Status Report today.

Click To Enlarge

Click To Enlarge

The original post from last night follows.

Oconee County added two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 between the release of the Georgia Department of Health’s Daily Status Report at noon on Sunday and the release of the report on Monday, bringing the total to three.

Clarke County added five cases during that same time period, bringing its total to 14, while Barrow held steady with a single confirmed case.

Across the state, confirmed cases increased from 600 at noon on Sunday to 772 at noon on Monday, and state health officials cautioned that new results are “in part reflective of improvement in electronic reporting efficiency from commercial laboratories.”

The Georgia Department of Health now has instituted reporting each day at 7 p.m. as well as noon, and the number of cases in the state was 800 in that second reporting on Monday. The numbers for Oconee, Clarke and Barrow counties remained unchanged from the noon figures.

Late Monday afternoon a group of 70 doctors, nurses and other medical professionals sent a letter to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners urging them to issue a mandatory round-the-clock shelter-in-place order.

“The time has passed for voluntary measures and simple social distancing,” the letter states.

In a separate letter, another group of 10 individuals, including Oconee County Planning Commission member Karen Hilyard, called for the Board of Commissioners to adopt a shelter-in-place ordinance.

Late on Monday, Commission Chair John Daniell said the Commission is taking “all the comments into consideration” and communicating with “with local hospitals, state leaders and other counties in our region to receive accurate information.”

Click To Enlarge

Letter From Medical Professionals

“We are writing to you as doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who treat the people of Oconee County and the surrounding counties,” the 70 media professionals say in their letter to the Board of Commissioners.

“To protect the health and safety of the residents of Oconee County and all those served by our regional hospitals, Oconee County must implement a mandatory 24/7 shelter-in-place order,” the letter continues.

“The time has passed for voluntary measures and simple social distancing,” the medical professionals write. “Too many people are still congregating in businesses and neighborhoods with little regard for the risk they pose to others and to our healthcare system.”

The two hospitals in Athens-Clarke County, Piedmont Athens Regional and St. Mary’s, serve more than 627,000 people, the letter states, and the hospitals have approximately 50 Intensive Care Unit beds.

If one in 100 people in the area served by the two hospitals gets coronavirus, which the letter states is a conservative estimate, about 20 percent, or 1,254, will need admission to a hospital, based on observations to date.

Not only are the 50 ICU beds inadequate for the 1,254 expected patients, but “personal protective gear for our doctors and nurses on the front lines is already running low,” according to the letter.

If what has been experienced in other countries “becomes the reality in our area, our healthcare system will not be able to handle the size of the epidemic,” the medical professionals write.

“As the people who will be quarantined from our families while laying our lives on the line to treat these coronavirus patients,” the letter states, “we are pleading with you to do everything within your power to stop every case you can.”

Signers Of Letter

Among those whose name is on the letter are Dr. Lewis Earnest, Emergency specialist at St. Mary's, Dr. Mark Ebell, professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Public Health at the University of Georgia, and Dr. Barbara Schuster, founding dean of the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership.

Jonathan Wallace, 1030 Daniell Court, east of Butler’s Crossing, sent a copy of the letter with 55 names attached to the commissioners on Sunday morning and resent the letter with the 70 names late Monday evening.

Wallace told me in an email exchange on Monday that on Friday afternoon he began calling members of his church “to check in and see how they're doing.”

Wallace is a member of Oconee Presbyterian Church PCUSA, 2601 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing.

“The second call I made was to the wife of a Piedmont Athens Regional Emergency Department doctor,” Wallace wrote. “After she shared her concerns, I started calling other health professionals that I knew.

“Further conversations that day and social media activity convinced me that we needed our BoC and other officials in the county to send a stronger message to the populace,” Wallace wrote.

“Saturday morning, I began crafting the letter and reaching out to any and every medical professional I could find,” Wallace explained. Wallace said he did not sign the letter because he is not a medical professional. He is a software engineer.

Wallace wrote that 37 of those who signed the letter live in Oconee County.

Second Letter

“We are writing to you today as Oconee citizens concerned about the safety and well-being of our families and our neighbors,” the second letter, sent to Oconee County commissioners on Monday, states.

“While we applaud the efforts you have already taken to encourage social distancing, we believe there are additional steps the Board of Commissioners could be taking right now to better protect public health, shore up local businesses, and care for individuals and families,” the letter states.

“Specifically,” the letter says, “we are looking for leadership from the Board of Commissioners and a clearly articulated plan to ensure that:

“The transmission of COVID-19 is minimized in the county; Oconee businesses and their employees remain solvent; We meet basic needs and financial concerns for businesses and residents in Oconee County, including those exacerbated by the crisis (increased food insecurity, increased mental health needs, increased family stress and/or domestic violence, etc.); and Oconee County quickly recovers after this pandemic.”

The letter writers ask that, as a first step, the commissioners “adopt measures to create a Shelter-in-Place Ordinance to reduce the spread of COVID-19 throughout the county.”

The letter writers note that Oconee County’s 39,272 residents include 5,969 persons 65 years old and older, the group most vulnerable to severe cases of COVID-19.

Oconee County could find themselves with inadequate hospital facilities under expected circumstances, the letter writers states.

Signers Of Second Letter

Andrea Wellnitz, one of the four women who founded Oconee County Progressives, sent me a copy of the letter Monday afternoon. The group labels itself as a non-partisan, socio-political group.

She and the other three founders of the group were listed as signers of the letter.

Initially, Wallace also was listed on the letter, but Wallace said in the email exchange on Monday that he asked that his name be removed to decrease the chance that it might be seen as political.

Wallace is a former District 119 State Representative who is running as a Democrat for that seat in November.

Other signers include Pat Priest and Dr. Neil Priest. Pat Priest is a local writer and organizer. Neil Priest is a St. Mary’s emergency room physician.

Melissa Hopkinson, vice-chair of the Oconee County Democratic Party and a faculty member at the University of North Georgia Oconee Campus who contributes a science column to The Oconee Enterprise, also is listed as a signer of the letter.

Daniell’s Response

In an email message sent to me at 4:49 p.m. on Monday, Oconee County Commission Chair Daniell said “We respect different points of view and continue to take all the comments into consideration.

“We communicate with local hospitals, state leaders and other counties in our region to receive accurate information,” Daniell wrote. “We will continue working to encourage and support plans as a State and as a Region that will make a substantial impact.

“We continue to work with the citizens and businesses on complying with recommendations for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Daniell continued. “We are making regular statements as a BOC and sending those out on all our communication channels.”

“We will also continue to support our businesses and working with the Chamber of Commerce to spotlight best practices, local businesses, etc. and to connect businesses with potential assistance,” the email stated.

“When we have instances of business not adhering to recommended standards, someone is reaching out in attempt to gain compliance,” Daniell wrote.

Daniell sent his comments as Gov. Brian Kemp was issuing a mandatory shelter-in-place order for state residents who have an "increased risk" of catching COVID-19 and for those who have a positive case of COVID-19, those with a suspected case of COVID-19, and those who have been exposed to others who have had the virus.


Mike Horsman said...

Most Oconee Countians rightfully resent being ordered around by our government. We don’t NEED some BS resolution to tell us to use our common sense. Save your “orders” for the lost sheep in Clark County.

Anonymous said...

Are the Citizens of Oconee County failing to follow the social distancing guidance to the point of issuing such an order? Is there any reporting on this occurring? Are there repeated examples? Aren't the Media, Federal Gov't & State Gov't communications sufficient? Why would the Oconee BOC action carry more weight? For what time period would the proposed/recommended shelter in place "order" remain? What does the letter actually say? Can you post it instead of telling me who signed it? - Carolyn Maultsby

Anonymous said...

Lee, when I refreshed the letters showed up. However, I can get them to open. Will try again later. - Carolyn Maultsby

Lee Becker said...


It is hard for me to know how to help here. Both letters are embedded. I can see them on my computer screen. At the top of the embed box is a menu with a drop down icon. When I touch that icon, I get the option to download the letter.

On my iPhone, the letters do not appear in the box, but the bar is there, and it is possible to download the letters. On my Samsung tablet, one of the letters appeared initially, but the other does not, but the drop down bars are there for both letters. When I refreshed the screen, both of the letters appeared.

I suggest you experiment with different devices and browsers.


amanda said...

Except we obviously DO have to be told to use our common sense (the closing of the county parks by the BOC Friday).

Unknown said...

Hi Lee,
Its a browser issue. When I switched from Edge to Chrome the letters appeared.
FYI for anyone else having problems. I appreciate the overall encouragement and facts regarding hospital capacity, but no facts are given regarding the Citizens of Oconee not observing the "distancing guidance" that is sufficient to require MANDATORY compliance (loss of individual freedoms). Nor do the letters explain at all the parameters of such an action. - Carolyn Maultsby

Anonymous said...

(@Mike Horsman)
It is a good sign of social distancing that some Oconee residents commenting here did not know that not everyone in town has been practicing common sense. An example is how Epps Bridge Shopping Center area had tons of cars in parking lots (per videos shared on social media). For that, it seems we need our authorities to act in order to help prevent that our 2 (only 2) local hospitals (which have only 50 ICU beds) receive too many patients they cannot properly treat (it has happened in China and Italy, we should NOT make the same mistake here). In addition, the many medical personnel who, in order to care for our loved ones, have to leave their families (and kids), and, worse, could have to make impossibly difficult decisions in order to treat patients in a over-capacity hospital (again, happened in China and Italy, etc). Let's have common sense and continue to ask our county officials to take the necessary measures.
Fabiana H.

Hank Beasley said...

I'm still seeing folks go out all the time. Social Distancing seems to be a phrase used but not practiced around here 100%. If this is any indication on whats going on in other parts of Oconee you can expect more cases to pop up soon.

Pam Davis said...

Does John Daniel ever respond to citizens with anything but, "we are taking comments into consideration?"
It is time for the faces of the commission to change. Oconee County has grown beyond the "Good Ole Boy" mentality of governing.

Unknown said...

Do we know where in Oconee? Are they all related? Ages? What are their symptoms/status? The Kroger at Epps was doing order delivery to cars, so yes the parking lot was full because no one went inside. I took my mother for a drive for relief from the cabin fever, is that "out". Anecdotal & partial info may not be the solid proof needed for proper risk analysis. - Carolyn Maultsby