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More social distancing needed, public health says

Officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 office said it’s important for residents to police each other when it comes to social distancing during the COVID-19 healthcare crisis.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April.

Amy Fenn, Georgia Department of Public Health District 4 assistant director, said best practices haven’t changed, and if a person feels they have been in contact with a positive case, they still need to quarantine for 14 days. The comments were made during Monday’s roundtable discussion with LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton and WellStar West Georgia Medical Center President Coleman Foss.

“There’s such emphasis right now on wanting testing,” she said. “Everyone that thinks they’re ill wants testing, but what we’re instructing now is if you have been in contact with a positive or a potential positive, please, self-quarantine. That also includes distancing from those in your household as well.”

Fenn said public health is still trying to get the general public to abide by the guidance local governments have put in place. She said the restrictions put in place by the cities and Troup County are on target. She said as she drove around over the weekend, people are adjusting.

“One of the positive things is as I rode through my neighborhood is seeing families spend time together,” she said. “If things were open, they maybe would not be at home. So that is one optimistic thing.”

However, Fenn said as a community, the region still has some work to do in terms of proper social distances. She said throughout this past weekend, the public health department did receive some reports about places being open that should not be.

Thornton said he got reports of businesses that were mandated to close being open.

“I was getting reports of restaurants that had their dining rooms open over the weekend,” he said. “Even though all three cities and the county have prohibited that.”

Thornton said he heard of large congregations of people gathering in the city parks, even though all the parks in the city and county are closed. He said he also got reports of retailers not enforcing the six-foot rule between customers.

“Having said that, I think most people are following the guidelines. I really do,” Thornton said. “But there are those exceptions out there. I even noticed that Gov. (Brian) Kemp had to put out a mandate (Sunday) to require social distancing on the lakes because so many had large lake gatherings throughout the state. So, it becomes an ongoing enforcement effort to that point.”

Fenn said Kemp’s order does give the public health the authority to shut down a business if they deem public health at risk.

“That is not our goal. We do not want to do that,” she said. “As we get reports into public health, it’s our job to go out and educate the owners, educate the public, so that we know how to move forward to keep the businesses open, serve the community, but also protect the public.”

Fenn said the procedures in place are to contact the business and have a conversation. She said this conversation is to make sure the business owner is aware of the public risk, share the city or county ordinance and information from the Center for Disease Control.

Fenn said public health is also asking large manufacturers to think outside the box.

“If we usually stand three feet apart, we need that six feet,” she said. “So, it’s just everyone having to step back and sort of rethink daily life.”