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By Megan Reed and Nick Watson
A local task force is working to address the spread of COVID-19 in Gainesville and Hall County, which state officials have designated as a hot spot for the spread of the virus.
Georgia’s insurance commissioner John King said during a press conference Thursday that he and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, visited Gainesville Wednesday to meet with local leaders and discuss outreach with the area’s Hispanic population.
King said the group will be led by Norma Hernandez of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce and will include:
Dr. Pamela Logan, District 2 director of the Department of Public Health
Dr. Antonio Rios, Northeast Georgia Health System
Christy Moore, community health improvement manager with NGHS
Dr. Andrew Reisman of the Longstreet Clinic, president of the Medical Association of Georgia
Mike Giles, president of Georgia Poultry Federation
Juan Carlos Lomas, CEO of Vital Foods
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville
Rudy Rebollar, pastor with IDV International Gainesville
“Priority one is to find ways to communicate effectively the safety measures including practicing social distancing, wearing masks in public and avoiding large social gatherings,” King said. “This work will involve coordinating with local businesses, radio stations, churches and other organizations to stop the spread of this disease.”
Hernandez said four grocery stores have agreed to adopt a “no mask, no service” policy, something she said she will work with business owners to implement.
“The time has come to put pressure in our community (especially) our Latino community,” Hernandez wrote in an email to members of the community.
Hernandez said they are working with Northeast Georgia Health System on making posters regarding the “no mask, no service” policy as well as small cards with information on virus protection and prevention.
The task force is also pushing for “more remote local testing” provided in more locations at a greater frequency, Hernandez said.
According to NGHS data provided April 27, a breakdown of COVID-19 positive cases in Hall County showed 56% were Hispanic/Latino.
Across the entire NGHS service area, 40% were Hispanic/Latino.
According to 2019 census estimates, 29% of Hall County is considered Latino.
In the briefing Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials said testing in the state had increased, and the capacity to do so would continue to climb with the addition of supplies from the federal government.
"I'm proud to report that we are seeing record highs in testing," Kemp said. "Thanks to Georgia’s partnership with Augusta University, our university system, the private sector, and local public health officials, we’ve doubled our daily testing capacity and now have over 217,000 total tests reported to the state’s website."
The governor also said everyone should now make plans to get tested.
"In accordance with new CDC guidance, the Department of Public Health and district offices are now encouraging all Georgians - even if they are not experiencing symptoms - to schedule an appointment with their health care provider, local health department, or get a screening through the AU Health ExpressCare app," Kemp said.