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Dalton City Council member Tyree Goodlett made an impassioned plea on Wednesday for local carpet mills to ensure worker safety during the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
"I get up every day myself and go to work at a carpet company," so he takes this matter "personally," Goodlett explained during a special meeting of the council to deal with the pandemic. He worries not only for his safety, but for his wife and children, and "I'm going to be mad as hell if I get" coronavirus and perhaps pass it on to them.
Goodlett, who represents Ward 3 on the council, has heard from friends and relatives who work in the city's carpet mills that social distancing isn't being practiced, and he's seen photos of employees crowded into break rooms.
"People are scared, and when I ran for (this position on the council) I wanted to be a voice for people," he said. "That's why I take this so seriously."
Goodlett emphasized repeatedly he wasn't speaking for the city or the council, merely for himself, but he's concerned companies are more focused on fulfilling orders and making money than on worker safety.
Workers are not being tested for coronavirus before entering plants, and they're only being told to leave if they exhibit coronavirus symptoms, he said. Of course, "if we don't show up, we don't get paid."
If the mills did shut down, it would be up to the individual companies to determine what, if anything, they paid employees, said Gandi Vaughn, the city attorney. Workers would be eligible to file for unemployment benefits.
Carpet and Rug Institute President Joe Yarbrough said he's "spoken to our largest employers, and they have given me every assurance they are complying" with the guidelines regarding social distancing and other public health policies, but "I'll reach out to them again to encourage them to make sure they are" engaging in those best practices.
The institute's members believe it's vital to keep the mills operating for several reasons, including payroll, he said. "That's a significant and important effort."
And while employers must instruct workers in public health protocols during the pandemic, "employees have to take responsibility, too, and make sure they are social distancing," etc., Yarbrough said. "That social responsibility is on individuals as well as companies."
Whitfield County had four confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday at noon, according to the state Department of Public Health. There were 1,247 cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, and coronavirus has been linked to 40 deaths in the state.
As of 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Hamilton Medical Center reported 84 COVID-19 tests performed there, with 43 negative results, three positive results and 38 pending results.
The city now has a section on its website specifically dedicated to COVID-19 information, said Jason Parker, the city administrator. Furthermore, the City Council will continue holding daily meetings, one of the benefits of which is as a forum for "(us) to relay (any news) we have" to the community.
Because City Hall and other city buildings are closed to the public as a precaution against spreading the disease, the daily meetings at noon 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.
Derek Waugh, who represents Ward 1 on the City Council, apologized during Wednesday's meeting for his role in a moment of levity following Tuesday's meeting that some members of the community viewed as council members making light of a serious situation.
Waugh had been mocked good-naturedly for coughing repeatedly during Monday's meeting, a symptom of his severe seasonal allergies, so after he made it through Tuesday's meeting without coughing, he pointed that out to his fellow council members following the conclusion of their meeting, then coughed to punctuate his point, he explained Wednesday. "That was bad on my part, (and) I apologize."
Between his allergies, the allergies of his children and several relatives who have underlying health conditions, Waugh is well aware of the gravity of COVID-19, so "I'm not being flippant," he said. "I am taking this very seriously."
As he did Tuesday, he also again Wednesday urged able individuals to donate blood.
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.
Blood Assurance in Dalton remains open, and appointments can be scheduled by calling (706) 226-7735.
Donating blood is one way Daltonians can "mobilize" during this national emergency, Waugh said. From members of the community, "I get more questions about 'What can I do (to help)?' than 'What's going on?' (and that) shows great spirit."