Overview of Public Health Response to COVID-19

We recognize that this is an uncertain time for all, and that our fellow community members have a wide range of concerns about what is healthy, safe, or legal. You may be concerned about your own health or the health of a loved one, or how to access testing for COVID-19. It is important to know what Public Health is doing and where to go for more information.

Reporting Positive Cases

Healthcare providers must report all positive test results for COVID-19 to Public Health. When providers administer tests, the results are reported directly to the provider who then notifies Public Health.

The DPH Daily Status Report is updated with these results twice daily and represents the most current information we have at that time. Due to the delay in time between when results are received by a facility or provider and when they are reported to us, we cannot provide “real time” case counts.

Some case information is also updated or corrected after the new case is added to the count, causing county numbers to change from one posting to the next. For example, one county may have shown a positive case that was removed in the next posting. This could be due to a mislabeled county of residence (the DPH website tracks cases by county of residence, not where they were tested or treated), or due to a duplication of patient information.

Additional information on deceased individuals (age, gender, race, underlying health conditions, if known) is also reported on the DPH Daily Status Report, and DCH (Department of Community Health) has begun providing a weekly report of long-term care facilities that have confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is the extent of the information that we can publicly release without compromising patient privacy.

Epidemiological Investigations and Guidance for Individuals Exposed to COVID-19

When Public Health receives notification of a positive test result for COVID-19, local epidemiologists and communicable disease specialists reach out to the individual who tested positive. They provide education on how the person can protect their health and the health of others, including isolation and quarantine (staying home to prevent the spread to others). They then determine the need for additional outreach and notification of people who were in close contact with the person who tested positive.

Infection Control Guidance for Facilities

All nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the state have received guidance from the Department of Public Health detailing measures to be taken to control the spread of COVID-19 among their residents and staff. Local Public Health is actively investigating all cases of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, and these facilities are being provided with infection control guidance.

The Department of Public Health does not regulate hospitals, nursing homes, or other long-term care facilities, but when there is a confirmed case of an infectious disease in a long-term care facility, local Public Health immediately initiates an investigation. This investigation includes contact tracing and evaluation of infection control practices. Our epidemiologists and communicable disease specialists maintain contact with facilities with ongoing outbreaks and conduct in-person site visits to ensure proper infection control practices are being performed.

Questions or complaints about specific facilities should be directed to the facility or to the regulatory agency:

Hospitals

The Joint Commission
www.jointcommission.org/contact-us

Skilled Nursing Facilities (“Nursing Homes”) and Assisted Living Facilities

Department of Community Health, Division of Healthcare Facility Regulation

dch.georgia.gov/healthcare-facility-regulation-0

Access to Information and Resources for Local Healthcare Community

Local hospitals, in-patient facilities, long-term care facilities, assisted living facilities, dialysis clinics, and other healthcare providers have access to information, training, and resources through the regional healthcare coalition. Current guidance and information updates are sent out to providers on an ongoing basis. Additionally, if a healthcare provider is unable to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) through their normal channels or has other needs, they may request assistance through the coalition: garegione.org

Testing

The Northeast Health District is operating a drive-through testing site and has also begun using a mobile clinic to provide COVID-19 testing throughout a 10-county area. If you are concerned about exposure to COVID-19, you should stay at home and call your healthcare provider, an urgent care center, or a local federally qualified health center. The Northeast Health District also has a Testing Hotline available to schedule FREE testing by calling: 706-340-0996. It is available from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday

Maintaining Essential Services at Health Department Clinics

Many of our nurses and clerical staff are supporting the drive-through testing site and mobile testing clinic. As a result, access to some health department services may be reduced at this time. We are committed to continuing to provide essential services such as access to WIC, tuberculosis treatment, birth control, STI testing and treatment, immunizations, and birth and death certificates. Please call your local health department to find out how to access these services: publichealthathens.com/wp/clinics/

Regulating Restaurants, Hotels, Public Pools, and Tattooing Establishments

Public Health continues to permit and inspect restaurants, hotels, public pools, and tattooing establishments. If you have questions or complaints about these types of businesses, please contact the county Environmental Health office: publichealthathens.com/wp/clinics/

For questions or complaints about local grocery stores and convenience stores, contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture – North District at 770-535-5955 or bradley.brown@agr.georgia.gov

For complaints about other businesses violating the Governor’s executive order,contact the Georgia State Patrol: dps.georgia.gov/covid-19-updates-0 or dps.georgia.gov/divisions/troop-and-post-locations

Coordinating Sheltering for Individuals Without Ability to Self-Quarantine

If an individual who has been exposed COVID-19 does not have access to adequate space to self-quarantine, the Northeast Health District will work with that person to locate appropriate shelter.

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