COVID-19 response in Rabun County FAQ

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The Clayton Tribune has compiled a list of common questions and answers concerning the COVID-19 virus, based on our reporting. This is a rapidly-developing story, and we will update this information as new details become available.

What’s closed in Rabun County?

Just about everything. 

Schools are closed until at least next month. All county-owned facilities such as the Civic Center and the Rabun Arena are closed. 

Most local businesses have closed their facilities to the public, though some, like The Clayton Tribune, are still doing business by email, phone and fax. Most National Forest campgrounds are closed.

What’s open?

Most every local health care facility and doctor’s office is open during normal business hours. Please check their requirements before visiting. They may ask to meet you in the parking lot instead of coming inside the building. 

Local restaurants have closed their on-premise dining, but many continue to offer drive-thru or curbside service. 

Ingles, Walmart and perhaps smaller grocery stores, are open. Please check with your preferred source for groceries. Ingles and Walmart have added senior shopping hours and earlier closing times so that shelves can be restocked as quickly as possible. In addition, they have added manpower dedicated to disinfecting carts and facilities. 

Most gas pumps are open. 

County recycling centers are operating on their normal schedules, but employees will not help you empty your trash. 

Home Depot is open. They are allowing only about 100 people in the store at a time per the City of Clayton’s emergency rule that businesses admit only one customer per 100 square feet of floor space at a time to limit social contact. 

Reeves Hardware has closed their facility on Main Street in Clayton, but continues to serve the public from their other locations in Rabun County and North Carolina. 

State Parks and Chattooga River Ranger District trails located in Rabun County are open, though officials continue to access the situation.

Is Rabun County prepared for this health emergency?

All indications are that Rabun County is as prepared as we can be at this time. 

Lacking a mandate from the governor’s office, local officials are attempting to close as many places where people congregate as they can while balancing the needs of citizens for food and other essential items. 

Mountain Lakes Medical Center officials have been stockpiling masks and other protective gear for months. The hospital has ventilators and negative-pressure treatment rooms, as well as supplies of some drugs that show promise in treating COVID-19. In addition, they are operating under an emergency plan established by The Georgia Department of Public Health. This means MLMC joins hospitals in the 13-county Health District 2, which includes Hall County, to coordinate treatments, services and hospital beds. 

The Rabun County Health Department continues to assist in local health efforts. Rabun County EMS has taken extra steps to be able to continue to serve the public while protecting the health of their employees.

But is this enough?

No one knows the answer to that. Rabun County appears to have adequate resources on hand at the moment. No one can say for sure whether this will be enough if worst-case scenarios come to pass.

Then why aren’t we blocking the roads and keeping people from bringing the virus here from outside?
There’s no constitutional authority to do that. State and federal highways in Rabun County are under state and federal jurisdiction. Even if such an order were given, there is not enough local manpower to enforce. It would take an act of Gov. Brian Kemp and mobilization of the Georgia National Guard to close most Rabun County roads. That does not currently appear likely. 

Science and math suggest it’s impossible for a community to totally isolate itself from the virus, There are, however, many actions that can be taken to slow the spread.

But I saw on the news so-and-so closed their borders.

Sheriff Chad Nichols said Saturday he spoke with law enforcement officials in Macon County and Highlands, North Carolina. While they are restricting some travel, their roads remain open to through traffic at this time, Nichols reported. 

Neighboring Habersham County is operating under similar restrictions as Rabun County.

But won’t these non-residents consume all our food and supplies?

There is no indication of a problem with the national food distribution chain at this time. Shortages are attributed mainly to hoarding. As that begins to ease, it’s likely the supply chain will be able to catch up. Trucks continue to roll into Rabun County 24/7 with food and other items.

How do we know COVID-19 isn’t already here?

We don’t know at this time. None were reported as of March 28. The Georgia Department of Public Health is the only official source for tracking the number of COVID-19 cases. They update their results twice daily, at noon and 7 p.m. You can visit their website,https://dph.georgia.gov/, for the latest information.

How many people have been tested for COVID-19  in Rabun County?

At least a dozen. Total numbers of tests are not being collected at the county level that we can determine. Mountain Lakes Medical Center said they are still awaiting results on several patients tested. Private doctors and other facilities may also be referring patients for testing, but those numbers have not been reported. All test results that have been reported so far have been negative.

Can I get a COVID-19 test?

Yes, if it’s determined there is a medical reason you need one. 

Many people suffer seasonal allergies or flu-like symptoms totally unrelated to COVID-19. Due to the limited supply of testing resources at the moment, only those cases where other causes can’t be ruled out are being passed along for testing. 

It’s important to note that no testing takes place locally, or in any county we can find of similar demographics to Rabun County. 

Samples are collected from patients locally and sent to the Georgia Department of Public Health. An epidemiologist for the state reviews each request for a test. In some cases, the request may be denied because the symptoms do not appear to make a COVID-19 diagnosis likely. 

Health resources all across the country are limited at this time, but federal and state officials are making an all-out push to ramp up production as quickly as possible.

So what should I do?

As much as possible, stay at home except for performing essential chores like securing groceries and medical supplies. At Saturday night’s meeting of the Rabun County Commission, Kim Ingram, nursing supervisor for Mountain Lakes Medical Center said current predictions are that the peak of the infections will occur in Georgia on approximately April 21. That number will no doubt change as more data is collected. Until the number of new cases starts to decline, please limit your social contacts as much as possible.

If you think you have symptoms but you are not feeling the need for immediate medical treatment, the best advice is to self-quarantine for 14 days. By all means, call 911 immediately if you are having a medical emergency. Most people who contract the disease will experience mild to moderate symptoms that can safely be treated at home. For more serious cases, medical help is available. Calling your doctor, the Rabun County Health Department or 911 and following their guidance are your best options.

Above all, don’t panic. It’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and to seek information. But the spread of unfounded rumors is not helpful to anyone.

What's next?

The Clayton City Council meets at 9 a.m. Monday, March 30 in emergency session. They will stream the meeting live. Visit their Facebook page for more information. The Clayton Tribune will be there to report.