STATEMENT FROM DR. GARY VOCCIO, HEALTH DIRECTOR FOR THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH NORTHWEST HEALTH DISTRICT

This is a difficult, uncertain, and frightening time. Our job now, everyone’s job, is to bear what we’re all feeling and take appropriate action to help protect our families and loved ones, ourselves, our communities, and, for many of us, our employees. Many of our Northwest Georgia workplaces, some with large numbers of employees, have had COVID-19 cases.

We are experiencing community spread of COVID-19 in Northwest Georgia and expect it to continue for the foreseeable future. Our ten-county Northwest Health District is home to about six percent of Georgia’s population but currently has about nine percent of the total state COVID-19 cases.  We expect to see more COVID-19 cases and, sadly, more deaths.

So far, our cases are mostly in five counties: Bartow, Floyd, Gordon, Paulding, and Polk. Many of those cases are related to one group gathering. Three of our counties, Dade, Haralson, and Walker have no confirmed cases so far, but that may change. You can find a Georgia COVID-19 case summary by county of residence, updated twice daily, here:  https://dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report

Businesses and employers can help prevent and slow the community spread of COVID-19 and lower its impact in their workplace. All employers must

take measures to reduce transmission among employees, maintain healthy business operations, and maintain a healthy work environment.  Current, detailed CDC guidance to help employers do so may be found at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html 

All businesses, regardless of size, must encourage and permit their employees to work from home as much as possible. Non-retail businesses such as manufacturers and construction companies must ensure their employees maintain social-distancing measures.

We acknowledge and appreciate that many businesses are already following these CDC guidelines. We thank our local county chambers of commerce for promoting and encouraging their members to follow them.  

Any business, regardless of number of employees, that cannot meet these guidelines must seriously weigh the prudence of remaining open against the potential health risk not only to employees but also to the community. I understand the serious consequences of closing a business of any size and cannot make that decision for any employer.              

If your business remains open, you:

Must:

•Know where to find local information on COVID-19 and local trends of COVID-19 cases.

•Know the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if staff become symptomatic at the worksite.

•Review, update, or develop workplace plans to include:

» Liberal leave and telework policies

» Consider 7-day leave policies for people with COVID-19 symptoms

» Consider alternate team approaches for  work schedules.

•Encourage employees to stay home and notify workplace administrators when sick (workplaces should provide non-punitive sick leave options to allow staff to stay home when ill).

•Encourage personal protective measures among staff (e.g., stay home

when sick, handwashing, respiratory etiquette).

•Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

•Ensure hand hygiene supplies are readily available in building.

Should:

•Encourage staff to telework (when feasible), particularly individuals at increased risk of severe illness.

•Implement social distancing measures:

» Increasing physical space between workers at the worksite

» Staggering work schedules » Decreasing social contacts in the workplace (e.g., limit in-person meetings, meeting for   lunch in a break room, etc.)

•Limit large work-related gatherings (e.g., staff meetings, after-work functions).

•Limit non-essential work travel.

•Consider regular health checks (e.g., temperature and respiratory symptom screening) of staff and visitors entering buildings (if feasible).

Could:

•Implement extended telework arrangements (when feasible).

•Ensure flexible leave policies for staff who need to stay home due to school/childcare dismissals.

•Cancel non-essential work travel.

•Cancel work-sponsored conferences, tradeshows, etc.