virus update

Two Pierce churches potentially linked to local coronavirus case

Pierce County now has two confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus), and health officials released a statement Monday asking members of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and Piney Grove Freewill Baptist Church to self-isolate due to possible exposure with one of the locally confirmed cases.

The statement reads: “If you or someone you know has attended Piney Grove Freewill Baptist Church in Blackshear or Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Patterson you may have been exposed to COVID-19. You should monitor your health for fever, cough or shortness of breath for 14 days from the last time you attended a church service at that location. You should not go to work or school and should avoid public places during that period of time.”

Department of Public Health officials also advised anyone who gets sick with fever, cough or shortness of breath, to contact their primary care provider, urgent care center or Federally Qualified Health Center and tell them about the potential COVID-19 exposure. Physicians may choose to monitor those individuals more closely or test them for COVID-19.

DPH spokespersons will not disclose any further demographic information about the individuals who have tested positive for the virus, citing patient privacy laws, but county and city officials received word from DPH over the weekend urging area churches not to gather for services and recommending all communities follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to limit gatherings to 10 people or less and for individuals to stay six feet apart.

“It’s our general recommendation to please not have gatherings of more than 10 people ... Our hope is that everyone is not holding services,” said Rebecca Reis, risk communicator with DPH. “In general,  there has been spread (of the virus) all over the state of Georgia because they’re not following the social isolation recommendations of fewer than 10 people and remaining six feet apart.”

Pierce County issued the following statement Saturday: “We have received reports from the Georgia Department of Public Health which states there is evidence of transmission with links to churches in our area.”

Blackshear Mayor Kevin Grissom also posted a video to the city’s Facebook page urging congregations not to gather in person.

“Due to the extreme cases resulting in Dougherty County that seem to have been derived from a funeral, they (health officials) are being very cautious,” County Manager Jason Rubenbauer told The Times. “They did state many who have been tested have stated they have attended church.”

“We still have tests that are out there, but we have no results on them,” adds EMA Director Santo Niño.

Memorial Satilla Health is currently treating six patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 – all are in isolation.

“Memorial Satilla Health has protocols in place to care for patients with infectious diseases, and we have been working diligently to help ensure we’re prepared for COVID-19 cases. Just this weekend, positive test results came back on six patients who are being treated in our facility. All are in isolation,” says Tina Kicklighter, hospital director of public relations and communications. “We have been working with the Health Department in identifying and contacting a limited number of individuals who may have been in contact with them.”

Memorial Satilla further limited patient and visitor access to the hospital this week. Everyone must now enter through the emergency room entrance. Hospital staff are still screening all visitors, patients and staff who enter the building.

“Earlier this month, we began screening all visitors, patients and staff before they come in the hospital. This includes temperature checks for all of our colleagues. We will continue to reinforce infection prevention protocols and are working in partnership with the Health Department and local and state agencies,” Kicklighter says.

Neighboring Ware County has five reported cases. Appling County has two cases and Bacon County has one confirmed case. Wayne and Brantley Counties have no confirmed cases to date.

“Try to be patient ... it’s one of those things, we really don’t know how long this is going to take, and if we don’t isolate ourselves, it could get worse,” Niño says.

Georgia Department of Public Health releases two daily COVID-19 reports at noon and 7 p.m. Monday’s 7 p.m. report shows 3,032 cases in Georgia with 102 reported deaths (3.36 percent) and 773 hospitalizations (25.49 percent). Fulton County has the most confirmed cases with 503 followed by Dekalb County with 294 cases.

For general information on COVID-19, call (844) 442-2681 or visit www.dph.georgia.gov and www.sehdph.org/covid-19.