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Following a safe path

Johns Creek scrambles to set up testing for workers

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Johns Creek City Council voted unanimously April 13 to extend for one month its emergency ordinance targeting the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

In its first regular meeting and work session in more than a month, the council agreed the pandemic continues to threaten the lives of residents. That assessment is based on the latest government numbers showing Fulton County leading the state in cases of COVID-19. Overall, Fulton had 12 percent of the more than 15,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the state as of April 16, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Following a safe path

Visitors walk the path at Ocee Park in Johns Creek just past the playground that has been closed off to guard against the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. The Johns Creek City Council has extended its emergency ordinance closing public facilities and calling on residents to practice social distancing through May 18.

Johns Creek City Manager Ed Densmore provided a stark overview of the city’s operations.

“The one issue we’re having currently is the testing issue,” Densmore said. “Georgia is currently 45th out of the 50 states for testing, and it’s presenting an issue for us as far as public safety goes.”

Densmore said the city faces a problem getting first responders tested in cases where they suspect they may have been exposed to the virus. He said the city now has a vendor who can test first responders, but there is a 48-hour turnaround on getting results.

Nevertheless, Densmore said, Johns Creek’s public safety departments remain fully staffed.

According to the Georgia Governor’s Office, the state is expected to hit its peak caseload sometime around April 26.

“We’re still doing building permits, inspections; those requests are being handled online,” Densmore said. “The road construction, park constructions are still underway.”

City parks are closed, but fields and trails remain open.

The city ordinance, set to expire May 18, closes all public buildings and allows the governing body to conduct meetings online.

Health check

A technician from Peachtree Immediate Care checks out a patient pulling out from a drive-thru test for COVID-19 at the center’s North Point Mall clinic April 17. Peachtree has opened similar testing sites at other clinics in Metro Atlanta in response to increased demand for testing. Public Health officials say they, too, are planning to roll out more testing in the coming weeks, with one drive-thru site planned for Alpharetta. 

The council also adopted two other addendums to the ordinance associated with the fallout from the pandemic.

By a 6-1 vote, the council relaxed the city’s sign ordinance to allow portable signs, window signs and banners. Signs are not allowed in public right of ways.

The issue drew pushback from Councilman Lenny Zaprowski, who proposed letting city staff and code enforcement authorities use their own discretion during the pandemic to enforce the sign codes. He said official action on the ordinance could give way to sign spinners standing by the roadside. He added that he wants businesses to have some leeway, but there are too many consequences to a council endorsement that relaxes the sign ordinance.

But, Stephanie Endres, who proposed the ordinance, said she would support a sign spinner who might have lost his job and was collecting some income during the shutdown.

“I appreciate your concerns…but I would be excited if somebody got a job out of this, because our unemployment is so high,” she said.

The council also voted unanimously to extend the deadline for business taxes to June 30.

Endres said businesses she’s spoken with have expressed that cash flow is becoming an issue during the pandemic, small business loans issued through the Paycheck Protection Program may not be used to pay taxes.

Last month, the council extended the business tax deadline from its original March 31 to May 31. The new June 30 deadline still gives the city time to collect and settle all accounts by the end of the current fiscal year.

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