FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Fulton County, and May 6 the Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution urging residents to continue to shelter in place.

There have been more than 3,250 confirmed cases of the disease in the county, and more than 130 deaths, according to the county Board of Health. About 45 percent of the cases come from the city of Atlanta. About 20 percent of cases are in North Fulton.

Though the state its rolling back its regulations, Fulton commissioners are striking a more cautious note. The resolution passed last week encourages residents to continue to shelter in place, practice social distancing, wear cloth masks while in public, refrain from nonessential business and follow other guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control to minimize potential exposure to COVID-19.

The county also extended the emergency powers granted to Chairman Robb Pitts and the county manager to June 30.

Most of the longer-than-six-hour meeting May 6 was dedicated to updates on the county’s response to the pandemic. Fulton recently brought on a new health director, Dr. Lynn Paxton, who comes to the county after a long career at the CDC.

Paxton said one of the health department’s main goals is to test as many people for COVID-19 as possible. In late April, the county opened two new free, drive-through testing sites at Wolf Creek Amphitheater in College Park and on North Point Parkway in Alpharetta. The county also operates mobile testing sites.

Paxton said health officials have expanded the groups recommended to be tested. In addition to people with symptoms of COVID-19, asymptomatic persons from disproportionately affected groups, like African Americans and Native Americans, and employees going back to work should be tested, she said.

When asked about antibody tests, which detect whether a person has been previously exposed to the virus, Paxton warned against giving the tests too much weight.

“Antibody testing is not something that we can use to give people like an all clear to say you’re immune,” she said. “We simply don’t have that data. It’s useful for doing surveys, to get an idea of how many people have been infected on the population level.”

The Health Department is also working to expand contact tracing, which the CDC considers a core strategy to control infectious diseases. The process involves public health staff working with a patient to identify everyone with whom they have had contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious. Public health staff then warn these exposed individuals of their potential exposure and urge them to self-isolate.

Fulton County has brought on new staff to implement COVID-19 contact tracing and is also rolling out a web-based app to assist the process.

“Traditional contact tracing is incredibly time and personnel intensive,” Paxton said. “Usually it involves going out to a person’s house, finding them, talking to them. It is hoped that with this web-based application we can cut down on that.”

Use of the app will be voluntary, but Paxton said she hopes patients who have a smart phone will see it as a convenience.

The county received $104 million in federal funds for efforts to combat COVID-19. The county is still working out how to spend the money, and commissioners debated whether to distribute a portion of it to Fulton cities.

Commissioners also discussed the chief operating officer’s plan to reopen county services. The staff’s proposal included a phased approach, starting with certain tax commissioners’ offices and with libraries and arts centers opening last. The timing for reopening will be based on a decline in cases and ability to test for COVID-19.

Carson Cook is an Editor with Appen Media Group and covers Johns Creek, Dunwoody and Fulton County.

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