Albany City Commission works with Dougherty County on face mask ordinances

Albany Mayor Bo Dorough and other elected officials have been setting an example by wearing masks at twice-weekly news conferences and other events.

ALBANY — Albany residents in the Jackson Heights area of East Albany can get no-cost coronavirus tests on Saturday administered by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

As the presence of COVID-19 diminishes and people return to work and normal activities, health and elected officials are urging residents to get tested and continue to maintain practices that have slowed the spread of the virus.

Through Wednesday, there have been 137 deaths of Dougherty County residents who tested positive for the coronavirus, Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler said.

There have been 1,719 confirmed cases in the county and 40,405 statewide.

The testing site at Robert Harvey Elementary School, 1305 E. Second Ave., will be open from 9 a.m.-noon on Saturday. A similar pop-up sample collection site was held for residents in south Albany the previous Saturday.

“Apparently, there are some people, older people, who don’t have transportation or who don’t feel safe driving who have not had the opportunity to go to one of the other sites,” Albany Mayor Bo Dorough said during a Wednesday telephone interview.

Testing is open to anyone, not just east Albany residents, and are administered to either walk-in or drive-through visitors, Dorough said. The wait time can be reduced by calling ahead to the Southwest Public Health District at (229) 352-6567.

“I want to encourage all residents, particularly those who live in the Jackson Heights area or who have not had the opportunity to go to one of the other sites, to take advantage of this opportunity,” the mayor said.

The health district will open testing sites on Memorial Day Monday: one in Leesburg from 9 a.m.-noon at the Lee County Health Department, 112 Park St. In Thomas County, the agency will collect specimens for testing from 9 a.m.-noon at Mt. Sinai Apostolic Church and from 2-4 p.m. at Cross Creek School.

During a Thursday new conference, Dorough expressed annoyance with some who have criticized recommended safety measures.

“I read with frustration the rants of those who say social distancing and even wearing a mask are comparable to living in a totalitarian state,” he said. “I would suggest that we no longer (engage) with them. They have their minds made up.”

The Dougherty County Commission this week approved a resolution urging people to wear masks while in public, and the Albany City Commission could vote on the joint resolution on Tuesday.

“All the medical research tells us it benefits and protects others when we wear a mask in public,” Dorough said. “In my mind we should not worry about how we are perceived by others, but how we can protect others.

“To me a mask says, ‘I am concerned about you. I am making a choice to be concerned about you.’”

Dr. Steven Kitchen, chief medical officer at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, agreed that wearing masks and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others make a huge difference in reducing the spread of the coronavirus. Frequent hand-washing is the easiest and most effective protective measure, he said.

The wave of COVID-19 cases hit suddenly, making Dougherty County one of the biggest hot spots in the country if not the world in terms of cases and deaths, and officials say that the shelter-in-place orders and social distancing played a large role in flattening the curve of the spread of the disease.

“We have seen if there is not the appropriate response what the impact will be,” Kitchen said. “There is a way to get through the storm and see our way to the other side of the storm. I think there is a way to drastically reduce the risk of infection and the risk of transmission and also return to a more normal life.

“I think if we continue to act responsibly, we can continue to reduce the (damage) of this very dangerous virus.”

The county, having sharply reduced the number of new cases and hospitalizations, has successfully emerged from Phase 1, Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas said, and is moving into the next phase of re-opening more businesses.

That first stage was chaotic and frightening, he said. Now, with protective measures, the community can start to resume a more normal routine without the fear and uncertainty that marked the initial phase.

Health officials recommend that people who are vulnerable to the disease should continue to shelter in place.

“It is time for those that are comfortable, those who are capable, to start living more normal lives,” Cohilas said. “We want to continue to move forward in a tailored fashion.”

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