BLUE RIDGE, Ga – In the past week, two county courthouses closed due to confirmed COVID-19 cases. This week county commissioners revealed two vastly different bills for sanitization services. However, neither expenditure is feasible as a regular expense for counties if more virus cases arise within government offices.
Gilmer County paid Restoration 1 out of Dawsonville $6,007.81 for cleaning a 106,000 square foot courthouse and road department building. Fannin County Commissioners to pay a maximum of $70,059 to American Property Restoration out of Atlanta for cleaning its 69,752 square foot courthouse.
Since Tuesday, American Property Restoration dropped the price by five percent to $66,500.
Each county received disinfectant fog and surface wipe downs, but Fannin’s sanitization process included a negative air machine. It circulated the fog throughout the ventilation system to ensure the removal of COVID-19 throughout the building. Other additional charges in the Fannin bill include HEPA filters, labor for wiping down equipment, and PPE for workers. The 30 counts/charges for HEPA filters and labor for equipment wipe down was listed at $30 each.
The 24-person team required heavy-duty disposable PPE, and the company charged $48 per person.
As for disinfectant fog, Fannin paid $1.39 per square foot for the first 30,000 square feet and 50 percent off that price for the remaining 39,752 square feet. Gilmer paid six cents for 80,000 square feet at the courthouse.
Given the emergency nature of the COVID-19 situation, neither county had time to bid out the process. Both operated within a short window to quickly clean and reopen the courthouses.
Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton told Fetch Your News that this was a “true emergency;” he didn’t have time to shop around. Also, American Property Restoration specialized in COVID-19 cleaning.
“Not a matter to see who could do it the cheapest,” said Helton. It was about protecting the citizens of Fannin County from an unknown element. The advice about preventing COVID-19 continues to change almost daily.
Restoration 1 that cleaned Gilmer’s courthouse also had a professional COVID-19 virus disinfection team.
However, Fannin can apply for CARES Act funding from the State and receive reimbursement for virus-related expenses. Helton added that the knowledge of the funds made him slightly more comfortable with the price.
“If we prevented one citizen from going to ICU that cost would be comparable to $66,500 and would not be eligible for CARES funds,” added Helton.
Fannin hasn’t yet applied for the reimbursement because the state hasn’t made the portal available to smaller counties at this time.
In June, Gov. Kemp issued a letter explaining CARES Act funding policies to state counties. Previously, only the top five counties with the highest percentage of cases had access to the funds.
According to the letter of guidance from Gov. Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their 30 percent share of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.”
How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in courthouses
Turning to the future, Helton agreed that it’s not feasible for Fannin to spend $66,500 again, and the county probably won’t perform another cleaning to this extent at the courthouse. Possible future options include cleaning the office with the confirmed case was located, but they haven’t made a final decision.
The commissioners started requiring employees under their authority to wear masks while at work and strongly encouraged the practice among everyone in the courthouse, including the public. Temperature checks also began this week for those visiting the facility.
According to the CDC, the virus spreads “mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.” By wearing a mask in public areas, employees limit the spread of those droplets.
Helton wanted people to feel safe to visit the courthouse once it reopened.
Dr. William Whaley and Dr. Raymond Tidman discussed the effectiveness of closing to perform extensive cleanings on courthouses. Both agreed that cases will occur, but spending exorbitant amounts of money isn’t necessary.
“You can teach your own housekeeping staff what they need to know if there has been this virus [case],” explained Dr. Whaley. “If you just shut your doors for 24-hours, the virus is going to die because it doesn’t stick around on surfaces for terribly long.”
Afterward, if someone cleaned the surfaces and highly handled areas, the virus should be removed for that day. However, the practice must occur every day at the end of the day. The county and schools can go over cleaning protocols with their janitorial staff to begin COVID-19 recommended sanitization measures.
CDC guidance about disinfecting cites that coronaviruses die on surfaces in a matter of hours or days. To safely remove COVID-19 from a surface, first clean the area with soap and water, then an EPA-approved spray on the surface. If an EPA-approved disinfectant is unavailable, 1/3 cup of bleach added to one gallon of water, or a 70% alcohol solution will disinfect a surface. Bleach can’t be mixed with other cleaning and disinfection products together. The effectiveness of bleach solutions lasts for up to 24 hours.
Janitorial staff must wear the proper PPE to protect them from harmful chemicals and the virus.
Disinfection plans can adapt as more information becomes available about the spread of COVID-19.
“A COVID virus here or there is going to happen, and you do your cleaning, and that person goes home for a day or two and gets over it,” added Dr. Tidman. “The hair on fire stuff needs to quit.”
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After experiencing a COVID-19 exposure, the entire Fannin County Courthouse closed for deep-cleaning and sanitization. Due to the unexpected health hazard, the county approved a $70,059 emergency expenditure to pay American Property Restoration for its service.
Chairman Stan Helton stated that he is continuing to try a negotiate the price down, and the $70,059 would be the maximum price. However, the state of Georgia also released CARES act funds to smaller counties for COVID-19-related expenses. These funds should cover the cleaning cost.
According to a letter of guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their share of the 30% of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.” A local government has to provide supporting documentation for qualified expenditures.
22 people in hazmat suits cleaned the courthouse using foggers, fans, and sanitizer. The fans circulated sanitizer throughout the ventilation system to disinfect every inch of the courthouse.
“We have to be careful in the future. No one should feel at fault if they actually brought this in. It’s an invisible enemy,” said Helton.
Helton admitted that he underestimated the square footage of the courthouse at 69,752 sq. ft. He initially estimated cost would be between $50K and $60K. American Property Restoration charged full price for 30,000 sq. ft. and half-price for the remaining 39,752 sq. ft. However, he asked them to continue looking for rate discounts.
“It’s a huge cost, but the good thing is there are funds set aside for us to help recoup. I honestly believe something had to be done because the alternative is more cases break out. It would be said that no one did anything. I’m glad all the employers and taxpayers that come in are safe yesterday and today from any lingering infection,” added Post One Earl Johnson.
Since the exposure was an emergency, the county didn’t have time to take bids on the cleaning process.
The Board of Commissioners office instated a mask mandate for its employees and asked them to minimize visiting other departments. Marks will be required when visiting other county departments or in the hallways. The Board of commissioners also encouraged other elected offices to start the same or similar policy.
All courthouse employees and visitors must enter through the front of the building to have their temperature checked. If an employee runs a temperature, then they will be asked to get a COVID-19 test and can’t return until they receive a negative result. The security area will also provide hand sanitizer to visitors and employees.
As for the public, the commissioners can’t mandate masks inside the courthouse.
“We may be able department by department to department to ask the employees to make masks mandatory in their work areas. We can’t legally demand that the public do that. We can ask them, urge, plead. We can strongly recommend that they wear a mask, but we can’t prevent someone from coming in here without a mask,” explained Helton.
However, in offices, not inside the courthouse, like the 911 call center, all visitors must wear masks.
“We need to recognize this thing is still around. We need to follow through and be diligent. Don’t let your guard down, don’t get lax and do these things,” said Post Two Glenn Patterson about following guidelines.
Johnson echoed that everyone needs to be as careful as possible, but still live their life. With numerous out of towners in Fannin, it’s impossible to prevent people from catching the virus. “Be as smart and careful as you can possibly be,” stated Johnson.
As for potential future exposures, county attorney Lynn Doss suggested following the GaDOE and DPH outline. If someone tested positive and they wore a mask, socially distanced, and not in contact with others for more than 15 minutes, then the immediate area would be closed and sanitized.
Read more about the COVID-19 exposures in Gilmer and Fannin Courthouses here.
NORTH GEORGIA – Both Gilmer and Fannin have received a new order entitled “Amended Third Order Extending Declaration of Judicial Emergency” closing and requiring deep cleaning for offices in the courthouses of both counties.
The order, sign by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, states that a number of courthouse employees are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting testing results. Due to this the Chief Judge conferred with Board of Commissioner (BOC) Chairmen from each county and has declared the situation beyond the ability to continue with regular work.
The court has ordered that the counties deep clean and keep closed the following offices:
- Fannin County Superior Court Judge
- Fannin County Juvenile Court Judge
- Fannin County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
- Fannin County Probate Court
- Fannin County Magistrate Court
- Fannin County District Attorney
- Fannin County CASA
- Gilmer County Superior Court Judge
- Gilmer County Juvenile Court Judge
- Gilmer County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
- Gilmer County Probate Court
- Gilmer County Magistrate Court
- Gilmer County District Attorney
- Gilmer County Misdemeanor Probation
- Gilmer County CASA
Additionally, Gilmer County has also closed the offices of the Gilmer County Tax Assessor and the Gilmer County Tax Commissioner. These offices are also ordered to perform a deep cleaning and remain closed until further orders are given.
Just as with the previous Judicial Emergency Orders, Remote Videoconference hearings are being utilized and scheduled. The order states that all other provisions of the previous order are still in effect.
This all comes after the announcements of some of Gilmer and Fannin Elected Officials and Courts closing earlier today due to COVID-19 exposures.