By Tia Lynn Ivey
Rutledge residents breathed a sigh of relief Sunday when the sole patient quarantined at Hard Labor Creek’s “Corona Camp” was released and transported out of Morgan County. Rumors spread via social media that the isolation camp, comprised of seven medical trailers designed to hold up to 14 patients, would be dismantled and closed. But Morgan County officials announced a new patient infected with COVID-19 arrived to Hard Labor Creek for quarantine on Monday.
“Officials from Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) advised that a patient would be arriving at the Hard Labor Creek State Park isolation unit this evening,” said County Manager Adam Mestres in a press release issued Monday, Mar. 16. “The patient has previously tested positive for COVID-19 at a Georgia hospital and has been discharged from care with instructions to continue self-quarantine for a length of time determined by hospital personnel and Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) officials. The patient will be observed and monitored at the isolation unit by GDPH.”
“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 said in a statement, who noted the isolation camp was set up to accommodate patients in need of quarantine without other options.
As of press time on Tuesday, March 17, Governor Brian Kemp announced there are 146 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across 27 counties in Georgia. As of this time, there are no confirmed cases among citizens in Morgan County.
According to Mestres, state officials conveyed that this is the new patient is the only expected one to be held at Hard Labor Creek’s isolation camp “at this time.”
After Governor Brian Kemp announced a permanent site to be constructed in Forsyth, Georgia in Monroe County to quarantine infected patients, he announced Tuesday afternoon that this “historic” pandemic would likely “escalate” with more confirmed cases in Georgia in the coming days and week. Rutledge residents were hopeful that the site at Hard Labor Creek would be discontinued, but no official closing notice has been announced.
“We had one night’s peace,” wrote Pam Jones on Facebook, who lives near Hard Labor Creek State Park. “Praying it’s only temporary but having no faith in anything that has been said about this situation.”
State officials are revamping oversight of the camp according to Mestres.
“Furthermore, GEMA has advised local officials that site safety will begin to transition from Georgia State Patrol (GSP) and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Georgia National Guard,” said Mestres. “This transition is being conducted in order to place our law enforcement partners back into their respective roles throughout the state. GEMA officials advised there would be no change in safety protocols. In order to keep our residents fully informed, any new information regarding the isolation unit will be released as it becomes available.”
County officials are balancing the need to contain the spread of the Coronavirus with meeting the needs of citizens through vital services.
“Our leadership team is committed to providing a continued high-level quality of county services with minimal interruption through the week ahead,” said Mestres. “All county offices will be operating under normal conditions with the following exceptions. Out of an abundance of caution, the Morgan County Senior Center will remain closed this week and officials will reevaluate Thursday, March 19, 2020 to determine if continued closing is needed. All members of the center are having meals delivered to their homes during the closure. Additionally, Morgan County Parks and Recreation has canceled all soccer, baseball, softball, track, gym and aquatic activities through Friday, March 19, 2020. In order to make every effort to follow CDC guidance regarding community gatherings of greater than fifty (50) people or more, Morgan County will discontinue rental of all venues until further notice. Passive park services will continue to be open to the public and encourage any users to follow best practices for self-distancing. In an effort to keep our team healthy, we request that you continue to follow best practices for your health with regular hand-washing and avoid conducting business with county offices if you are sick.”