It's back to virtual meetings for the Dougherty County Commission after increase in coronavirus cases

Dougherty County Administrator Michael McCoy, left, bumps elbows with Commissioner Anthony Jones outside the Albany-Dougherty Government Center after a July 6 commission meeting.

ALBANY — With the number of coronavirus cases making a resurgence recently, the Dougherty County Commission will go back to virtual meetings after holding one meeting with public participation.

The county also has canceled for now it’s planned move to Phase 2 of re-opening due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. It had been scheduled to bring more workers back to their office on July 6.

Five commissioners and an audience of about 20 attended the July 6 commission meeting. After that meeting, Commissioner Anthony Jones said he did not feel comfortable and would not be returning to live meetings under current conditions.

“I’ll only be out doing essential things,” he said.

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, which saw hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients decline to below 30 on some days during June, reported on Thursday that there were 51 patients hospitalized for treatment of the disease.

“This is because we’ve seen — not a surge — but there’s been an uptick of COVID in Dougherty County,” County Administrator Michael McCoy said of moving meetings back to the virtual format and delaying the implementation of the second phase of re-opening. “Not that they (commissioners) felt uncomfortable, they just wanted to go back to virtual for now. We thought it was best to go back to virtual meetings.”

The commission suspended live meetings in March as coronavirus cases began to spike in the county. The disease soon began taking a toll in nearby counties.

At this time, officials are speculating that some of the new cases in Dougherty County are due to people in other southwest Georgia counties commuting to Albany for work or shopping here.

“We want to be in the chamber,” McCoy said. “But for now, everybody will call in and we’ll do it like we did it before. We had been watching the spread around the community and among our employees, and we thought it was best to go back to virtual meetings based on a modest increase in hospitalizations.”

Some county workers have tested positive for the virus in recent days, and that also played a role in the decision.

The county and city of Albany re-opened government buildings, as did the courts on a limited basis, on June 22. Visitors to all city and county buildings are required to wear face masks.

Everyone who attended the July 6 County Commission meeting wore a face mask. Jones wore a mask and plastic face shield, and Commissioner Victor Edwards wore a face shield.

Phase 2 of re-opening would have seen more county employees returning to their offices. Instead, employees slated to return will continue to work from home. McCoy said that staff will monitor the situation and move forward with the second phase of re-opening when conditions allow.

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