City Council offers health reminders during coronavirus outbreak

Phlebotomist Maria Velasquez talks with Kimberley Thomison as Thomison donates blood on Tuesday at Blood Assurance. Blood Assurance remains open for donations, but donors are asked to call ahead to set up an appointment. 

DALTON, Ga. — The Dalton City Council is urging residents to remain calm during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and not overwhelm local health care facilities. 

The city is in daily contact with local medical experts “so we can all speak in one voice” for the community, said Annalee Harlan, who represents Ward 2 on the City Council. A fever of 100.5 degrees or higher is “the biggest factor” if a person believes he or she may have the virus. 

Anyone concerned about having coronavirus should contact their primary care physician, or, if they don’t have a primary care physician, contact a walk-in clinic, an urgent care facility or the health department, Harlan said Tuesday during a special City Council meeting. In order to avoid overwhelming emergency rooms, individuals should only visit an ER if they are experiencing serious breathing trouble, not mild symptoms. 

Few testing kits are available, but “escalation of symptoms” may make a person eligible for testing, she said. Testing parameters may change “as more tests become available.” 

Georgia reported 1,026 cases of coronavirus and 32 related deaths as of noon Tuesday, according to the state Department of Public Health. Thus far, there have been two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Whitfield County, but none in Murray County.

Following best practices reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), such as keeping a distance of six feet from others, is optimal for local residents, Harlan said. “Social distancing remains the best thing we can do to protect our community.” 

The area’s carpet mills are also practicing social distancing while they remain in operation, which is actually relatively simple to execute due to the layout of most factories, said Carpet and Rug Institute President Joe Yarbrough. “I’m comfortable that social distancing is the way they are operating,” he said. 

In addition, sanitation crews are working in the carpet mills more frequently than usual, including regularly wiping down touch surfaces, and some plants are taking temperatures of employees before they enter facilities, Yarbrough said. Anyone with symptoms is sent to in-house nurses, and, if those symptoms seem like they could match the coronavirus, employees are sent home and asked to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.

Furthermore, many staff members in departments such as accounting, customer service and human relations are already working remotely, he said. Keeping the mills open serves two purposes: fulfilling current orders, and providing wages for employees to support themselves and their families. 

The city continues to provide important services, including fire and police, during this declared state of emergency, although both the fire department and police department are taking extra precautions, said Jason Parker, the city administrator. For example, police officers are taking reports over the phone, rather than face to face, as much as possible, while firefighters are taking the temperatures of people before getting in close proximity.

During this national crisis, “blood is in short supply,” but Blood Assurance in Dalton remains open while “taking utmost precautions,” said Derek Waugh, who represents Ward 1 on the City Council. Blood Assurance can be reached at (706) 226-7735 to schedule appointments. 

All donor chairs are set six feet apart, all employees have been screened for coronavirus, and any donors must also be screened, said Lydia Espitia, assistant team leader at Blood Assurance in Dalton. In addition, “we’re not having more than 10 people, including employees, inside at a time,” following the CDC recommendation.

Furthermore, beginning Monday, “we’re limiting (donors) to appointments only,” Espitia said. “Even walk-ins will have to make an appointment and come back.”

More than 4,000 blood drives have been canceled in the U.S. due to the coronavirus, a loss of 130,000 donations, according to the American Association of Blood Banks. While those ages 60 and older are generally most likely to be blood donors, that population is at the most risk during the pandemic and has been urged to remain in their homes. 

The mayor and City Council will continue to meet at noon each day at City Hall until these meetings are deemed no longer necessary, according to the city. The purpose of the meetings is to assess the evolving situation with the spread of COVID-19 in the state and region and to take any actions necessary to implement or adjust operational plans in response. 

Because City Hall and other city buildings are closed to the public as a precaution against spreading the disease, the meetings are broadcast online on the city’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CityOfDalton. They can also be viewed on the video conferencing app Zoom. 

Approximately 1,500 individuals watched Monday’s meeting on Facebook Live, Parker said. During that session, viewers left several thousand comments and questions on the page, and City Council members like Waugh are using them as discussion points during meetings.

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