COVID-19 City Hall (copy)

Organizations serving the homeless community were given $150,000 in local aid Tuesday. This is the first phase of a larger Athens-Clarke County COVID-19 economic relief program.

Organizations serving the homeless community were given $150,000 in local aid Tuesday.

The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously approved this first phase of a COVID-19 community relief program during a special called session.

Advantage Behavioral Health Systems and the Athens Area Homeless Shelter will each receive $61,500 of the aid. Advantage provides homeless individuals with basic needs such as showers, laundry service and hygiene kits, as well as mental health services and rental assistance at its Homeless Day Service Center.

The funds for these organizations will provide for hotel payment assistance for 10 homeless individuals and 10 homeless families, staffing for Advantage and the homeless shelter, personal protective equipment for staff and food assistance for the homeless and those in shelters.

Mayor Kelly Girtz said he anticipates a portal opening next week for “broader community needs,” in addition to a small business support program and a community corps program. County Manager Blaine Williams proposed these programs in a March 31 Mayor and Commission work session.

Bigger Vision and Family Promise, two more organizations that provide emergency shelter for the homeless, will receive $11,000 and $16,000, respectively, to maintain staffing and provide food assistance for homeless clients.

Commissioners also unanimously passed a local emergency order allowing bars and restaurants to sell sealed growlers of beer and wine for customers to consume off-premises.

Dr. Stephen Goggans, a district health director with the Georgia Department of Public Health, discussed COVID-19 cases, reporting and testing with the Mayor and Commission at a work session immediately following the special session.

During the work session, Goggans said resource limitations on testing are lessening, and testing will be more readily available for those who show symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are not part of a high-risk group.

Testing guidelines currently allow people with symptoms to be tested if they work in healthcare or other critical infrastructure, have an underlying condition, are 65 or older, reside in a long-term care facility or are household members or caregivers of people who fall into these categories, according to a Tuesday media release from the DPH Northeast Health District. These guidelines apply to sites operated by the district.

If capacity allows, healthcare workers or long-term care facility residents may be tested even if they are not showing symptoms, and those showing symptoms may be tested even if they do not fall into one of the specified groups.

In addition to a main test site in Athens-Clarke County, the DPH has opened a second test site. This site was initially opened in Barrow County, but Goggans said the intent is to move the site to where there are potential hot spots for cases.

A mobile health clinic from a partnership between Augusta University and the University of Georgia is a potential resource for testing in underserved areas in Athens-Clarke and in surrounding counties, he said.

“This is going to be a very exciting opportunity to take testing into places where we may not have been adequately testing and sampling before,” Goggans said.

District 7 Commissioner Russell Edwards asked Goggans why there was a delay between the first news report of the 10 PruittHealth-Grandview deaths and the confirmation of deaths at the facility by the DPH. Goggans said that without tracking a specific case, it's hard to know why confirmation of that case is delayed. He said the DPH is working out delays in confirming cases.

WSB-TV first reported on April 7 that 10 people had died in the Winston Drive long-term care facility after testing presumptive positive for COVID-19.

During the work session, the Mayor and Commission heard plans for compensation and benefits for county employees for the 2021 fiscal year. Human Resources Director Jeff Hale said the county is currently in the process of implementing a COVID-19 response program for employees that includes emergency paid sick leave and expands emergency medical leave.

Commissioners discussed possible investments into the county’s stormwater utility system and changes to the limits on industrial wastewater discharges into the county’s sewer system.

The Mayor and Commission will hold an agenda setting session April 21 at 6 p.m.

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