City updates policy and sends workers home to quarantine. GDPH responds to ConnectLocal Open Records request.
City officials have updated the policy regarding employees who came in contact with an employee in the Toccoa Police Department who was confirmed to have tested positive for COVID. Employees who came in 'close contact' with the individual are being sent home to self-quarantine, according to a 2 p.m. statement by Billy Morse
"Upon further discussion with the Department of Public Health, and out of an abundance of caution, the City employees that came into close contact with COVID-19 have been sent home for isolation until further notice," Morse stated. "A case worker from DPH has been requested to manage the control measures."
ConnectLocal first reported on the story yesterday just after 1 p.m. when Police Chief Jimmy Mize verified that a department employee had tested positive for COVID-19.
City Manager Billy Morse spoke with ConnectLocal shortly after, describing the procedures advised by the Georgia Health Department for city employees who worked at city hall.
Under the guidelines issued by the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), the city was advised that employees who have come into "close contact" with the staff member who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 are still able to go to work and proceed under the standard social distancing guidelines in place for the general public, but were asked to "self-monitor" for COVID-19 symptoms for seven days.
“Close contact,” as defined by the GDPH guidelines, means an individual that is “contact for a period of at least 10 minutes, within six feet.”
Neither COVID-19 testing, nor self quarantine was advised by the GDPH guidelines provided to the city for individuals who came into contact with the infected employee, unless that person became symptomatic.
ConnectLocal, after reading published CDC Interim Guidance for Risk Assessment and Monitoring that called for self-quarantine of individuals, especially critical industry workers, who came in close contact with an infected individual, issued a Georgia Open Records request last night to the Georgia Department of Public Health District 2 office, requesting copies of current guidelines that appeared in conflict with CDC regulations, and confirmation of what directives were given to Toccoa officials.
At noon today, GDPH responded, referencing a GDPH Administrative Order highlighting the following portion of the Administrative Order: (Full text of Administrative Order published below)
Persons With COVID-19 Exposure Likely to Result in Infection. Upon notification by a healthcare provider, public health official, or isolated person of exposure to COVID-19 based on close contact (within six (6) feet for a prolonged period of time) with a person who must be isolated as provided herein, the person so exposed shall immediately quarantine himself or herself at home or another location approved by the Department.
Each quarantined person shall remain at home or in the approved quarantine location for a period of fourteen (14) days from the person’s last known exposure to COVID-19.
GPDH spokesman Dave Palmer advised that communications with city officials on Monday had been by telephone call. A copy of the Administrative Order referenced in the email had not been provided to the city; all directives had been issued verbally over the phone.
ConnectLocal contacted Morse following his announcement that employees that had been in close contact with the COVID-positive employee were being sent home and told to self-quarantine.
"He (Dave Palmer, GDPH District 2 PIO) contacted me and said you had asked for the information, and he waned to share it with me also," Morse told ConnectLocal. "When I read what he sent, it wasn't exactly what we had talked about yesterday, so out of an abundance of caution, since it looked like should be guaranteeing people, I decided to send everyone home that had been identified as coming into contact with this person."
The Administrative Order referenced by Palmer in his communications with ConnectLocal was updated late last week, according to GDPH records, including changes in the guidelines in question.
"This is a new Administrative Order, just from last week, and I think, quite frankly, they are still working through it," Morse said.
A notation on the GDPH Administrative Orders web page states " Public health recommendations have been updated to accommodate new scientific evidence, evolving epidemiology and the need to simplify risk stratification. New recommendations are based on:
Growing evidence of transmission risk from infected persons without symptoms or before the onset of recognized symptoms;
Increased community transmission in many parts of the country;
A need to communicate effectively to the general public and to simplify implementation for public health authorities;
Limitations in access to COVID-19 testing and increasing number of cases diagnosed clinically
Continued focus on reducing transmission through social distancing of individuals in affected areas"
Under the new guidelines, a GDPH caseworker will now be assigned to the matter, and will be assisting the city and communicating with all employees who have been sent home to evaluate their contact and risk.
Morse said a total of nine employees who were in close contact with the individual have been sent home, and could be off of duty for 14 days unless cleared by the case worker.
Morale at city hall shows an expected level of concern, Morse said.
"I don't think the morale here is any different here than it is out in the community," he said. "People are concerned about tall this; they are concerned when they go to the grocery store, they are concerned who the come into contact with at work. It's an unknown and they are concerned and they are nervous about it."
GDPH Administrative Order
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED as follows: Isolation
1. Persons With Known COVID-19. Upon notification by a healthcare provider, public health official, or clinical laboratory of a positive laboratory-confirmed test for COVID-19, the person testing positive for COVID-19 shall immediately isolate himself or herself at home or another location approved by the Department.
2. Persons With Suspected COVID-19. Upon notification by a healthcare provider or public health official of suspected COVID-19 infection based on symptoms and a known exposure to a person with COVID-19, the person with suspected COVID19 infection shall immediately isolate himself or herself at home or another location approved by the Department.
3. Each isolated person shall avoid unnecessary physical contact with any and all persons and shall comply fully with the Isolation Protocol attached to this Order, which may be updated from time to time based on guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention.
4. Each isolated person shall remain in isolation until such time as he or she no longer presents a risk of infection to the public, as determined by the Isolation Protocol then in effect. As of the date of this Administrative Order, the Isolation Protocol requires an isolated person to remain in isolation until either: • the person’s fever has been gone for at least seventy-two (72) hours, without taking fever-reducing medication, and • the person’s other symptoms have improved, and • at least seven (7) days have elapsed from the date symptoms began, or for a person who was placed under home isolation due to a laboratory-confirmed positive test result, but who has experienced no symptoms of COVID-19, until at least seven (7) days have elapsed since the date of the person’s first positive diagnostic test.
5. Isolated persons should monitor their symptoms and seek prompt medical attention if they experience difficulty breathing, as instructed in the Isolation Protocol. An exception to the requirement for isolation applies in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or natural disaster, or if the person’s health condition worsens and he or she requires treatment in a healthcare facility.
6. Each isolated person shall, to the extent practicable, provide notification of the isolated person’s COVID-19 status to those persons with whom the isolated person has been in close contact (within six (6) feet for a prolonged period of time) since symptoms began. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are cough, fever, and shortness of breath. At the request of state or local public health personnel, the isolated person shall provide a list of the locations visited by the isolated person during the time frame that he or she may have been able to transmit the disease. Quarantine
7. Persons With COVID-19 Exposure Likely to Result in Infection. Upon notification by a healthcare provider, public health official, or isolated person of exposure to COVID-19 based on close contact (within six (6) feet for a prolonged period of time) with a person who must be isolated as provided herein, the person so exposed shall immediately quarantine himself or herself at home or another location approved by the Department.
8. Each quarantined person shall remain at home or in the approved quarantine location for a period of fourteen (14) days from the person’s last known exposure to COVID-19. An exception to the requirement for quarantine applies in the event of an emergency, such as a fire or natural disaster, or if the person requires treatment in a healthcare facility.
Health care providers, emergency medical services workers, and other first responders may continue to work, in consultation with their workplace occupational health program and if necessary to ensure adequate staffing, so long as they are asymptomatic, don masks while on duty, and comply with all other quarantine requirements for the duration of the fourteen (14) day period.
During the period of quarantine, the quarantined person shall take his or her temperature twice per day and monitor any symptoms of respiratory illness. If at any time the quarantined person’s temperature is above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or if the quarantined person experiences cough or shortness of breath, the quarantined person shall be considered a person with suspected COVID-19 and shall follow the requirements for isolation set forth above. Staff members of the Department remain available at 866-PUB-HLTH (866-782-4584) to provide assistance and counseling to persons subject to this Administrative Order concerning their illness or exposure and their compliance with this Order.
During the period of isolation or quarantine, the ability of persons subject to this Order to communicate with others outside the isolation or quarantine site, including their ability to exchange confidential communications with legal and medical advisors of their own choosing, will be preserved and facilitated to the extent possible without jeopardizing the integrity of the isolation or quarantine.
Failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor offense pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 31-5-8. If the Department has reasonable grounds to believe that a person subject to quarantine or isolation refuses to comply with the requirements of this Order, the Department may provide information to law enforcement as necessary to ensure compliance and facilitate criminal prosecution.
Further, any person who refuses to isolate or quarantine himself or herself as required by this Order may be subject to further action by the Department, including a court order for involuntary detention in an appropriate facility other than the one specified above, or such other action as the Department may deem necessary to the protect the public’s health.