SPARTA, Ga. — It’s one of Georgia’s smallest rural counties, yet in the last several days, it has become known as one of the state’s newest hotspots when it comes to the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Since the global pandemic began, the virus has sickened more than 100 residents in Sparta and Hancock County and claimed the lives of at least 11 patients in one of the county’s two nursing homes.

Based on data compiled by officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health, the small rural county of Hancock, which has a population of about 8,200 residents, ranks sixth in Georgia for the most COVID-19 cases per capita.

Hancock County Commission Chairwoman Helen G. “Sistie” Hudson said she is concerned about the growing number of COViD-19 cases and urged everyone to take precautionary measures.

“I would just like to strongly urge our residents to stay safe and to follow CDC guidelines by wearing a mask in public, and if you can, simply stay home,” Hudson said.

She said since testing is now available to anyone, she urges all residents to get tested, “especially, if you find out that you have been in the presence of someone who tested positive.”

Hudson said Hancock County is a small, close-knit community and that they have always looked after one another.

“It’s especially important now,” Hudson said. “Our lives depend on everyone staying safe.” 

Michael Hokanson, a spokesman with the North Central Health District, said earlier this week that health officials had seen a spike in COVID-19 cases in Hancock County.

“There are multiple outbreaks in long-term care facilities in that county and those facilities make up about half of the total cases in Hancock County,” Hokanson was quoted as telling WRDW-TV, a North Augusta, S.C. television station.

As of Thursday, the Georgia Department of Public Health figures showed there had been a total of 52 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Sparta Health & Rehabilitation Center and 13 deaths. Figures also showed there have been 20 staff members that tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

At Providence Sparta, meanwhile, as of Thursday, there were 27 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and one death. There also have been 11 staff members who have tested positive for the disease there at that facility.

“This disease has really hit that nursing home real bad,” said John Gonzalez, regional director for Grady Emergency Medical Services, which handles ambulance calls in Sparta and Hancock and in neighboring Milledgeville and Baldwin County.

“As of May 13, 2020, Sparta Health & Rehabilitation has 44 patients who have tested positive for the virus with, unfortunately, 11 deaths associated with the virus,” according to a statement from Amy Abel, director of communications. “Our staff continues to work around the clock to provide compassionate care for our patients in the midst of this national health crisis. Sparta Health & Rehabilitation continues to follow CDC guidance as CDC updates their guidance based on new information learned about the virus.”

She pointed out that Sparta Health & Rehabilitation has taken many safeguard measures to ensure that all patients and staff are as protected as possible.

Such measures have included:

•Restricting non-essential visitation.

•Reinforcing CDC guidelines for hand hygiene and environmental cleanliness.

•Reviewing infection control policies and action plans with staff members.

•Screening health care workers prior to reporting for duty and not allowing staff with respiratory symptoms to work.

•Suspending group activities and communal dining to support social distancing.

The biggest surge of cases since the pandemic hit Hancock County was the week before last when the county went from 67 cases to 110 cases.

Like Hudson, Hokanson and other state health officials contend that just because many of the businesses have reopened amid the ongoing pandemic is no indication that the pandemic has ended.

“Just because the state is reopening doesn’t mean this is over,” Hokanson was quoted as saying this week. “We want to make sure everyone is safe out there, but the public cannot be out on every single street corner making sure every individual is doing what they can.”



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