State shuts down Hard Labor containment facility

Staff Written News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

managing editor 

The isolation camp at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Rutledge was closed late last week, less than one month after opening to quarantine patients infected with COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. 

“The trailers at Hard Labor Creek are being moved to Monroe County,” announced State Representative Dave Belton on Friday, March 20. 

On Friday, Morgan County government announced the quarantine camp at Hard Labor Creek State Park, which took local leaders by surprise and upset many Rutledge residents, would be closed. 

“At the time of this release, the isolation unit at Hard Labor Creek State Park is being dismantled,” said County Manager Adam Mestres in last Friday’s press release. “Five of the seven pull-behind campers have been moved off-site and are no longer in Morgan County. Additionally, the two units that previously housed patients remain on-site but have been disinfected and are awaiting transport out of the county. The portable cellular towers are also being disassembled as well.”

Only two infected patients were held at the Hard Labor Creek isolation camp before the decision was made to close it and move the trailer to a more permanent site in Forsyth, Ga. out in Monroe County. While in operation, The isolated site at Hard Labor Creek State Park was closed to public access and closely monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by state law enforcement.

“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 after the camp’s creation was made public. “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 news of isolation camp’s closing comes as a relief to nearby Rutledge residents who feared the camp would pose a risk to the health and safety of their community, should the quarantined patients break protocol and spread the disease. 

The camp’s existence was erected and announced to the public on March 9, taking local officials and residents by surprise. Members of the County Commissioners and Madison City Council found out via social media that Hard Labor Creek would serve as a quarantine site. 

“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 that Monday afternoon. The quarantine camp prompted a local petition to close it down by Rutledge resident Jenna Robinson,  which garnered 164 signatures.  

But now, the camp is closed and a new isolation site in Monroe County is in operation. On March 17, Harlan Proveaux, Deputy Director of Homeland Security, said the quarantine are, which is located  at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center  in Forsyth, is for those who need a place to isolate while infected with COVID-19. 

“This facility is being built to accommodate those folks that have tested positive and don’t have any other means of quarantine meaning, they have vulnerable people at home that they don’t need to quarantine with at their home or for other reasons so they can come here,” said Proveaux.

The new isolation facility can accommodate 20 temporary housing units. 

According to Mestres, The Georgia National Guard and Georgia State Patrol (GSP)  coordinated their efforts with local leaders while the Hard Labor Creek was being cleared of all units and equipment. As of press time on Tuesday, March 24, the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) announced that there are currently 1,026 confirmed cases of COVID-19 throughout 67 counties across the state, resulting in 32 deaths. One case has been confirmed in Morgan County. 

Morgan County government will continue to operate under restricted access. 

“As previously released, all Morgan County Government offices will remain closed to public entry until further notice,” said Mestres. “This measure is being taken out of an abundance of caution and to ensure the continued safety of our staff and citizens, The offices will remain staffed during normal business hours to take calls and/or emails in order to assist with any related services. In some instances, select services may be handled by appointment. Please contact the appropriate office related to your need. During this closure, there will be no disruption of critical county services to our community to include: law enforcement, detention center services, 911 communications, solid waste, fire suppression, and emergency medical services. We continue to ask all residents to follow best practices for self-distancing, not gathering in crowds larger than ten people, washing your hands frequently, coughing and/or sneezing into a tissue or inside the crook of your elbow, staying home if you are sick, and disinfecting frequently used items often. If you have a question related to COVID-19, the State of Georgia has created a hotline at 844-442-2681. In order to get the most up-to-date information consider signing up for county alerts at our official webpage at www.morgancountyga.gov, follow us on Twitter @Morgan_GA, or like us on Facebook at Morgan County Georgia – Government.”  

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