FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners had lengthy discussions and took action regarding the COVID-19 pandemic on Jan. 7, the same day in which the county recorded its highest single daily total of confirmed cases.

According to the Georgia Department of Health, Forsyth recorded 284 positive cases on Jan. 7, 95 more than the previous daily high set Jan. 1.

A bright spot among the ominous numbers is the arrival of vaccines in Forsyth County. Emergency Management Director Chris Grimes said the next phase of the vaccine rollout should begin this week.

Already, most healthcare workers facing the greatest exposure to the virus have been vaccinated.

Grimes said beginning this week, more healthcare workers, including nurses, physicians, laboratory technicians and others will be eligible to receive vaccines, along with those 65-years and older and their caregivers. Fire personnel and law enforcement are also included in the group.

The county’s health department opened a sign-up form for the second round of vaccines, but Grimes said the list was full almost as soon as it was announced. He said the Health Department is being inundated with calls, and residents should exercise patience.

He added that the county is not involved in the vaccine rollout, and that it is being handled by health agencies.

While first responders await their first or second round of a vaccination, the county discussed a measure during last week’s meeting related to extended pandemic-related sick leave for county employees.

During the early stages of the pandemic, the county voted to create a sick leave policy that would allow county employees who cannot work remotely, including first responders, to receive up to 80 hours of paid leave if they contracted COVID-19 or were forced to quarantine. The move allowed employees to take necessary time off to quarantine without exhausting their personal leave and potentially mitigating further cases or outbreaks among staff.

Sheriff Ron Freeman said that in certain situations, social distancing or wearing personal protective equipment is not possible or “appropriate for the time,” and deputies are consistently at risk for exposure.

Freeman said throughout the pandemic, about 60 members of the Sheriff’s Office have tested positive for the virus. Most cases have been relatively minor, he said, but some have been serious. He said many deputies have only used a few days of the allotted 80 hours leave, and seven have used the entire allocation.

Both Freeman and Fire Chief Barry Head heralded the sick leave program, which has been extended to March 31.

Commissioners also discussed a federal program that could aid those in the county facing severe financial hardship because of the pandemic’s effect on the economy.

While the county is exploring the program, it has moved to seek inclusion in a U.S Department of Treasury rental assistance program.

On Jan. 5, the Treasury Department launched the $25 billion initiative to provide aid for households unable to pay rent and utilities because of the pandemic. According to department’s website, eligible households include those that have an income at or below 80 percent of the area median. Other requirements include that a household member qualifies for unemployment or has experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs or experienced a financial hardship, and can demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness of housing instability.

Finance Director Rebecca Whitmire asked that the board move forward with a document showing Forsyth’s interest in the program because the deadline was fast approaching.

During the meeting, Whitmire said she had seen no indication of the dollar amount Forsyth could receive, there was no mention of mortgage assistance, and any payments would be made directly to landlords. She added that Forsyth qualified to apply because its population is above 200,000.

Whitmire said Gwinnett County has already applied for the program and is partnering with United Way to distribute funds.

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