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56 Forsyth County government workers have tested positive for COVID-19
FCN Forsyth County Administration Building

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The Forsyth County government is struggling to adequately conduct contact tracing with employees who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to someone with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Fifty-six county employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March, according to Charity Clark, Risk & Safety Manager with the county, while 223 overall have reported being potentially exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease, Clark said on Tuesday, Aug. 11, during a work session of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners.

Forsyth County has 2,054 total full- and part-time employees.

“We need more resources to try to do a better job at contact tracing to identify the exposure,” Clark said on Tuesday, Aug. 11, during a work session of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners. “It’s just been very taxing keeping up with the volume.”

A limited number of county employees returned to work in person in late May after months working remotely. The county installed plexiglass partitions in places where employees interact with the community and stocked up on personal protective equipment and disinfectant ahead of reopening to the public on June 1.

Departments have encouraged employees to stay six feet apart from one another, wash or sanitize their hands often, and wear a face mask, but Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt noted that Gov. Brian Kemp prevented local governments from mandating that visitors wear a face mask.

“So we do allow the public to come into the building and engage us in business and we don’t make them wear a mask,” Perkins said. “That’s part of the problem.”

Clark said they saw an uptick in employees reporting potential exposure to COVID-19 after the Fourth of July weekend as Georgia continued to reopen following shelter-in-place orders. The overall case count in Forsyth County has more than doubled since July 4, from 934 to 2,357 as of Tuesday, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Most county employees have been exposed to the virus outside the workplace, Clark said, but the employee may come to work for several days while the person at their home waits to get their test results back, which can take up to two to three weeks for some.

That’s led to co-workers potentially exposing each other to the virus in the workplace.

Clark said any county employee who has been exposed to the virus by someone at their home is required to self-quarantine and cannot return to work until they have been evaluated, Clark said.

Commissioner Todd Levent, who represents District 3, questioned Clark about the county’s policy of checking employee temperatures. She said all employees are getting their temperature checked at least once a day. Some departments that have been impacted more by COVID-19 are checking their workers’ temperature multiple times a day. 

But the county has had few instances where it detected a positive COVID-19 case by a temperature check, Clark said. She, along with District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper, emphasized the need to continue educating county staff about the symptoms of the disease, especially the loss of smell and taste, to help cut down on the number of workers contracting the virus or being exposed to it in the workplace. 

Clark said employees have missed 7,447 hours because of COVID-19.

“If we are wearing our masks at work, even if you have been exposed to someone that is positive, and we’re taking precautions with hand sanitizer, then our level of infection should be close to zero,” Cooper said, “if we’re following the precautions and procedures at the workplace.”