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Monday, March 30, 2020
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Effingham / Statesboro News

March 22 – Statesboro Council Sunday Special Mtgs; East Georgia Regional Physicians Urge Aggressive Steps to Fight Virus

By Lou Phelps, SBJ

March 22, 2020 – 3:10 p.m. - The Statesboro City Council held a Special Called Meeting today at 2:00 p.m. in their chambers to read and discuss a letter sent by a long list of physicians at East Georgia Regional Hospital, warning that the hospital’s services will potentially be overwhelmed if the city does not take immediate and aggressive actions to flatten the curve of the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the area, versus just "encouraging" social distancing by residents. 

They asked local officials to take immediate steps to reduce human contact, and urged the closing of most businesses and gatherings for 30 days.

Several city employees were in attendance, along with the Mayor and five councilmen.  The meeting was broadcast live.

After reading the full text of the letter out loud, Mayor Jonathan McCollar then opened the meeting for discussion by the City Council.   “They encouraged the Council to be more forceful versus just “encouraging” social distancing, summarized Councilwoman Shari Barr, after hearing the letter. “Not Marshal Law, but shutting down everything we can in town.”

But Councilman Phil Boyum said that he did not support closing businesses for 30 days, which many cities have done except for allowing restaurants to do takeout, and which was recommended by the area physicians in their letter.  He said, “I’d rather to only close all businesses until the end of the month.  I think 30 days is a little bit much. People have already lost a weeks’ pay.”  

But McCollar responded to him by saying, “This is an unprecedented moment in our history, and we have to do everything we can … I am NOT willing to risk the life of one single person in this city. I don’t want anyone to stand at a gravesite and say, ‘We did not do enough.”  He announced that he would be issuing an Executive Order for 15 days, which would be reviewed for a possible extension, based on the advice of the area’s medical leadership.

In attendance was East Georgia Regional Hospital Medical Director, Dr.  McCracken.  The letter began, “It is our individual professional opinions that what must occur to curb the devastating impacts on our hospital,” of the virus, was aggressive emergency actions by local officials.

“It is not a question of if, but when.  We are woefully under-prepared for the number of people who will need treatment and ventilators," the physicians wrote, and stated that they could end up at “the point of rationing of life saving measures …”

They encouraged citizens to shelter in place as soon as possible, but the Mayor’s Executive Order did not go that far, such as the actions undertaken by many cities nationally, such as in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“If we cannot slow down the rate of infection, our healthcare system will be overwhelmed,” stated McCracken.

“Up to 10% will be so ill they will need to be admitted to intensive care.  The death rate is much higher over 60 and as much as 20% over 80.  These measures will reduce the speed at which the virus will spread, and double or triple time the length of time over when the cases will occur, allowing the hospital to be deal with the number of people who need to be admitted or treated." the physicians explained. 

East Georgia Regional Hospital has only 24 critical care beds. “You can imagine how quickly they will fill up if our community becomes ill,” said McCracken.

“We advocate the state to take overly aggressive steps…” he added, and asked the community government to take strict measures immediately.

The Mayor had a prepared Executive Order ready to announce.  “This is not a shelter in place order, but it is an order to mandate the closing” of a number of public or private places. Gatherings of more than 10 are prohibited, including indoor or outdoor or convenience, such as an auditorium, event, tent, restaurant or any other confined space. This includes baby showers, weddings, funerals and gravesites, explained the Mayor.  

Social distancing is recommended, as well. The order does not include office spaces or any type of temporary housing, shopping centers, retail stores or private schools.  Restaurants can only offer take out or drive through food, and employees at a restaurant cooking and selling the takeout food must have six feet of separation.  Bars are closed.  Nail salons, tattoo parlors, gyms, dance studios, etc. are closed.  A violation of the Order is a misdemeanor. 

The Statesboro post offices are not covered by the Order, as they are controlled by the Federal govt, or are banks, though many banks across the U.S. are closing their lobbies, but still offering drive-thru and ATM services. 

He did not seek the Council’s approval, or a vote, and announced after the meeting that he was closing his own personal business until further notice. 

“This is a serious matter.  Albany already has 630 people waiting for testing, as they are symptomatic.  Six have died already.  There are already 80 confirmed cases in the last few days,” he said.  It is the Mayor’s hometown.

Dr. McCracken asked businesses such as construction companies to donate masks to the hospital. “There is already a shortage,” he said, adding that anything the city could do to help the hospital to obtain personal protective equipment, particularly for the nurses, would be particularly appreciated.

The City Hall will be closed to the public on Monday, March 23, 2020, for extensive cleaning and sanitizing, but all offices and departments will be operating during this time and can be reached at (912)764-5468 for business transactions.
City Hall will reopen to the public on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, but encourage customers to conduct business by phone or online when possible to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 
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