Photos by Jesse Walker
(Taken with a zoom lens from a safe distance on Tuesday, March 10th)
State sets up COVID-19 camp at Hard Labor
By Tia Lynn Ivey
UPDATE: March 11 12 a.m.
FIRST COVID-19 POSITIVE PATIENT NOW AT HARD LABOR CREEK STATE PARK
FROM THE OFFICE OF GEORGIA GOV. KEMP
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, March 10, 2020
First COVID-19 Patient at Hard Labor Creek State Park
Atlanta, GA – During a press conference with state emergency management officials and Coronavirus Task Force members, Governor Kemp and Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security (GEMA) Director Homer Bryson provided an update on seven emergency mobile units being deployed to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County.
This action was taken as a precautionary measure in accordance with the state’s strategic plan to prepare for any and all scenarios as it relates to COVID-19 cases in Georgia.
The Governor’s Office is able to confirm this evening that the first patient, an individual from Cherokee County who has tested positive for the virus, has now been isolated on the state park grounds in one of the mobile units. The individual was not able to isolate at their primary residence and was not in critical condition requiring any hospital admittance. State public health officials determined that a specific part of Hard Labor Creek State Park would be best suited for isolation as the individual is treated by medical professionals.
“This site was specifically chosen for its isolation from the general public and ability to house mobile units in the short term,” said GEMA Director Homer Bryson. “State public health staff will monitor the individual’s progress and work together with state law enforcement to ensure the safety of the community and the patient.”
The isolated site at Hard Labor Creek State Park is closed to public access and closely monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week by state law enforcement.
CITIZEN STORY BY TIA IVY, MANAGING EDITOR
Despite zero confirmed cases of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Morgan County, Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge will serve as an emergency quarantine site for infected Georgians.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced Monday, Mar. 9 that state officials erected seven medical trailers that can hold up to 14 patients in a “remote area” of Hard Labor Creek, just one mile from Rutledge residents. The decision came as a surprise to Morgan County officials, with members of the County Commissioners and Madison City Council finding out via social media that Hard Labor Creek would serve as a quarantine cite.
“We were having lunch, and someone saw it on Facebook,” said Board of Commissioner Chairman Philipp von Hanstein.
Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley also became aware of the situation along with the public when the Governor’s office disseminated a press release Monday afternoon. “This is a state operation and the state did not have to notify us,” said Markley.
While state and local officials believe the move will not expose nearby residents to COVID-19, some Morgan County citizens are protesting the decision. One Rutledge resident Jenna Robinson started an online petition to oppose the quarantine site, garnering nearly 100 signatures in less than 24 hours, as of press time on Tuesday, March 10. When the Citizen broke the news on its Facebook page Monday afternoon about the Georgia governor designating Hard Labor Creek State Park as an isolation area, the social connection data was staggering: In less than 24 hours, the post reached more than 51,000 people, engaged more than 11,000 times, was shared more than 660 times and garnered more than 200 comments.
During a press conference on Monday, Kemp, along with the Georgia Coronavirus Task force, urged the public to remain calm.
“This is only a precautionary measure,” said Kemp. No details have been released as of yet to whether or not any exposed people have been transported to Hard Labor Creek, but Kemp noted a Cherokee County resident with a ‘presumptive positive’ for COVID-19 may be transported to the quarantine site for monitoring. State officials have no decided on how many healthcare workers will be housed on site or have access to the site. The Georgia Department of Health, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Department of Public Safety and Georgia Emergency Management Agency will all collaboratively oversee the isolation site at Hard Labor Creek.
Kemp also stressed that most of the currently known cases of COVID-19 will be handled at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, not at Hard Labor Creek. Kemp noted that 34 Georgians, along with additional American citizens from the Eastern United States who are currently aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California, will be moved to Dobbins Air Reserve Base for quarantine and testing for possible exposure to COVID-19.
Kemp pledged the Hard Labor Creek isolation site would be for emergencies, if the virus continues to spread. According to Kemp’s office, “Once established, the Department of Public Safety will provide security for this location. Officials are utilizing an isolated section of Hard Labor Creek State Park where emergency trailers and operations will be separated from the rest of the property. To prevent the disruption of ongoing operations, access to this specific part of Hard Labor Creek State Park is strictly limited to official use.”
State Representative Dave Belton released a statement reassuring local citizens.
“On Monday, March 9, my office, along with State Senator Burt Jones (R-Jackson), was made aware of the state’s plan of action to designate Hard Labor Creek State Park as an isolation and monitoring location for COVID-19 patients, commonly referred to as coronavirus,” said Belton. “As the state of Georgia and our entire nation continue to take preemptive actions focused on keeping as many citizens as possible safe from the spread of COVID-19, I want to address some concerns about Hard Labor Creek State Park being designated and assure our communities that your safety is of utmost importance, and no plans have been put in motion to potentially cause harm to our community or any communities involved in emergency preparedness plans moving forward.Although we are all learning of these plans after the fact, a plan must be devised for worst case scenarios for the entire state. And, within those plans to keep our populations safe, this is the worst case scenario plan of action, which is part of a bigger plan of action that may or may not be necessary.”
Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley says a department of health official assured him the Hard Labor Creek site would not pose a threat to the local public. Markley was not notified about the camp beforehand.
“It is important to realize that the isolation location is in a remote part of the state park and is strictly limited to official use,” said Morgan County Sheriff Robert Markley. “There is no threat of COVID-19 exposure to Morgan County citizens. I ask that you keep the individuals that are being monitored and the staff taking care of them in your thoughts and prayers.” Markley stressed that Morgan County Sheriff’s Office has been preparing on its own for any COVID-19 outbreaks, enacting measures to prevent inmates from infecting the general population of the jail and other officers.
“A new inmate cannot be released into general population without seeing a doctor first,” said Markley. “We are trying to come up with plans to keep our staff, our inmates and our citizens safe.”
Markley was told by Stephen Goggans with the Georgia Department of Public Health that the isolation site at Hard Labor Creek poses a “zero percent” risk to the Morgan County population becoming infected—that all patients isolated and medical staff caring for them will be confined to the location and not interacting with the public.
Morgan Medical Center is also on high alert to prepare for any potential outbreaks locally.
“At Morgan Medical Center, the care and safety of our patients, families, visitors and staff is our highest priority. As with any significant public health concern, our infection prevention leaders and physicians are carefully monitoring the new coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and following the latest CDC guidelines for screening, testing and infection control,” Megan Morris, director of community relations and public affairs. “We remain in close contact with the Georgia Department of Public Health and have formed a dedicated COVID-19 task force to ensure our staff is continually trained on the latest clinical guidance, as well as our own stringent infection control protocols. Though the risk to our community remains low at this time, we urge anyone with fever, a dry cough or other symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to contact their primary care physician prior to seeking care. The best way to prevent the spread of illness remains thoroughly washing your hands, covering your coughs or sneezes with a tissue, and staying home and away from others if you are feeling ill.”
According to state officials, as of Tuesday, Mar. 10 there are a total of 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia. Kemp urged all Georgians to remain vigilant and follow new guidelines to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
“We all have to be vigilant for the health and safety or our elderly citizens and people with chronic underlying health conditions. They are the most at risk the most,” said Kemp. “I am asking Georgians to support your neighbor because we are all in this together.”
Kemp urged Georgians to regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and to remain home if sick.
“If you are sick, do not go to work and avoid large gatherings,” stressed Kemp, who reminded people to consider the most vulnerable populations the elderly and chronically ill. “ Kemp also recommended Georgians to get the flu shot, to cutdown on flu cases taking up hospital beds and to mitigate symptoms.
On Monday, March 9, 2020, at 12:12 P.M., Morgan County officials were notified via an e-mail correspondence from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), which provided Governor Kemp’s press release regarding the Hard Labor Creek State Park COVID-19 Isolation Site. Over the last 24 hours local officials have been in communication with leadership from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as well as, Senator Burt Jones and Representative Dave Belton regarding the isolation site at Hard Labor Creek State Park. At no point did local officials have any prior knowledge about the isolation site being setup in Morgan County ahead of phone calls from local residents, social media posts, or the aforementioned email. As of the time of this release, local officials have been notified by the State of Georgia that a patient is expected to be transported by way of ambulance to the isolation site within the next several hours. No other information has been released at this time. Additionally, local officials will continue to be in communication with state agencies and other partners regarding any activity in Morgan County, but are not directly involved in operations at the
isolation site, which is owned, managed and operated by the State of Georgia. GDPH medical officials, DNR and Georgia State Patrol will be on-site at all times while the isolation site is active with patients. Questions regarding the Hard Labor Creek Isolation Site should be directed to GDPH, which is acting as the lead agency on this case.