Coronavirus in Augusta Georgia

A regularly updated aggregation of news related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Augusta, GA and the CSRA.

This page originally began on 12 March as a call to action to the Master's Tournament and Augusta University to take proactive steps ahead of what anyone that was paying attention could see coming.  On 13 March the leadership of the Masters Tournament took the right decisions and postponed the Master's Tournament. The management of AU acted on Friday the 13th only after Governor Kemp directed telework on the night of the 12th. All of that is 'archived' below.

This page receives a lot of traffic, based upon the URL and the timing of its creation I suspect. I have decided to regularly update the page with news and commentary as we all work our way through this.

Remember - many 'experts' were wrong. Local media and media personalities took their advice and downplayed precations and warnings. This is serious, don't panic, but don't ignore it. Take steps, reasonable and responsible steps now. Bureaucrats have been wrong - see below. Do not hope for them to manage us out of this - take care of you and yours. Don't panic - even if this gets as bad as the very worst scenarios, mankind has faced such before - bend a knee, connect with your creator, take care of your loved ones and carry on!

See all of my Coronavirus related posts

send news, updates, and information to @onlyBarryLClark

Updates

27 March - The CSRA has 49 cases. Augusta University presented a pretty solid narrative during its 1500 town hall today. Of note was Katrina Keefer's acknowledgment that the number of local cases will increase greatly. This is a change from some of the narratives previously pushed (i.e. just stay calm and wash your hands). It also seems that AU medical center is fairly competent in executing operations. Establishing and operating two testing sites in addition to the hospital testing is not a small feat.

We see reports this week of a veteran going to the VA MEdical center to be tested, to receive negative results only to be called back three days later to be informed he was exposed. Subsequently, he tested positive. It seems best to stay away from the hospitals unless it is life or limb.

 

17 March - I was pretty convinced by mid-day that Coronavirus is beaten. There will be a large spike in cases by the first week of April (blame that on organizations acting so slowly last week to stop school and move to telework sooner rather than later - we lost a week of containment). No matter your political persuasion, and no matter your opinion of Trump, the administration has handled this solidly (there is nothing more that free Americans should want or demand from their Federal government). The governors of SC and GA have acted appropriately and the cities of Augusta and North Augusta are right on target.

However, this afternoon I walked the dogs through North Augusta. I saw innumerable acts of stupid. People sitting in restaurants, a party at the wine and art place, etc. This will not end until the stupid ends. It is on us, locally, not the government.

I am suspending daily reporting on this page until the first week of April when I assume we will begin to see the spike from the unfettered and uncontrolled contamination going on last week (and continues still because of individual choices.)

Stop doing stupid!

 

Chronological Commentary and Analysis

16 March - Augusta University Press Conference. AU COVID-19. Biggest takeaway was the announcement of AU Couronvirus hotline 706-721-1852

AU Press COVID-19 March 16 2020

#LIVE | AU holds press conference regarding two presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the CSRA.https://www.wjbf.com/news/two-positive-cases-of-covid-19-have-shown-up-in-the-csra/

Posted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 on Monday, March 16, 2020
Dualling docs. You choose.

16 March - University Hospital in Augusta leading the way with an e-triage app. Confer with a medical professional from home if you have symptoms. @univ_hospital.

16 March - Sign-up to receive COVID-19 Emergency Alerts from the City of Augusta via email.

16 March - Evans DA candidate reports he tested positive at an "AU curbside testing" site. I have yet to find the instructions and procedures to find or use such a site and did not know it existed until this report. I am not alone in that ignorance. Someone from Augusta University send me a link to this information @onlyBarryLClark and I will post.

14 March - Augusta hospitals prepared for coronavirus outbreak but could need more nurses (Augusta Chronicle Article from 14 March). All three Augusta area hospitals assured the Chronicle they had enough capacity (beds and ICU) and only mentioned potential nursing shortages. Tom Corwin of the Chronicle failed to ask the hard questions about capacity - what is the current and historic utilization rate? How would local hospitals handle an Italy level requirement? What numbers and assumptions are the assurances that there is "enough" capacity based upon? None of that was answered in this light article. We shall see.

28 January - Coronavirus Not Likely to Become a Big Problem for U.S., Expert Says ( Government Tech article posted by Augusta Chronicle)

Dr. Jose Vazquez, of Augusta University, stated

  •  it is unlikely to spread as it did in China
  • It's possible that it is going to be transmissible or contagious while the patient is asymptomatic
  • I think here we're ready for it...everything is in place.
  • I don't think it will be that big of a deal here, I really don't.
  • I'd hate for people to start freaking out and changing trips here.
  • I don't foresee seeing a lot of cases in North America and in Europe.

General Purpose Coronavirus Information

Selected Chronological Twitter Updates

 

A Lesson our Local Organizations Might Learn

'Digging into the shorts' of a couple of organizations last week, combined with what I know from personally dealing with some local emergency management folks and organizations that ought to be messaging plans right now it is obvious to me that the real problem is a lack of operational acumen. Big organizations in the area have been slow to operationalize their efforts - by that I mean taking preexisting strategies, forming teams, sharing information internally, properly messaging internally and externally. Some serious deficiencies in seeing this as and conducting it as an operation are apparent to me.  When this is over, some organizations need to seriously address their deficiencies - you are organized wrong, have in some cases hired the wrong people and have failed to exercise leadership. Time will demonstrate this more, and I will highlight it here.

Why did the thousands of US troops stationed in Korea not succumb to COVID-19 when the Korean population around them did?  GEN Robert Abrams says:

“This is not an administrative task, this is not a medical task, and it’s not a routine event,” he said on Friday. “It’s an operation. We are conducting 24/7, round-the-clock operations, and have been since [January 27] ... We’ve approached it similarly to how we operate in combat.”

USFK reacted early, and decisively. They had a solid plan going in, created effective operations centers, synchronized planners, doers and the message and kept everyone on the team informed.  Right now, If you are sitting in small 'leadership cells' talking to other managers because you think you need to do this alone, you are wrong. Operationalize it and leverage the power of a team and the organization.

Some of our larger organizations could learn from this - perhaps they will. You are all mostly doing this wrong right now!

Old post and original text retained below for the archive

Update 16 March 10:05 am: Augusta University now reports two cases at AUMC, a female employee and her husband - presumptive positive.

Update 15 March: Richmond County schools closing as coronavirus precaution

Update: 12 March 3:00 pm. - AU has implemented telework (remote) for non-essential employees beginning Monday 16 March and tentatively continuing for two-weeks. It appears this decision was made as a result of Gov. Kemp issuing instructions to state employees, not based upon authority that was already resident in AU leadership. They will have many tough decisions in the weeks ahead with the hospital, let's not await the governor to tell us what right looks like next time.

Update: 12 March 2020 10: am - The Master's has taken appropriate steps, I congratulate the leadership.

Update: 5:50 am 13 March 2020 - Plant Vogtle employee being tested for coronavirus 15 March 2020 Plant Vogtle worker tests negative for coronavirus

Update: 12 March 4:20 pm - 45 minutes after publishing this post, AU announced they are suspending classes. This is a terrific first step. Now they need to ensure they socially distance their employees through telework.

_______(Original post 12 March)_____

It is not a matter of if the Coronavirus ( COVID19 ) will make its way to the Augusta, Georgia area, as of today, 12 March 2020, it most likely already has. Perhaps only in the form of someone that was exposed and did not contract it, maybe in there is someone that has not yet displayed symptoms - but it has at least passed through the area. There can be no serious question but that eventually, cases will pop up. How many occur at once, just how bad it really depends on several things. Two of these factors can be directly controlled by The Master's Tournament and Augusta University.

Augusta University is one of the area's largest employers. When it COVD19 comes, how AU has handled its large number of employees prior to detection will matter.

The Master's Tournament potentially brings in thousands of people from elsewhere. It is almost a statistical fact that some number of those visitors will bring with them the infection.

Augusta University

Augusta University, unlike colleges in South Carolina, has been slow and ponderous to act. Their 'resources' page simply says they "have a plan" it does not detail it. Their public information states they are following state, Federal, CDC and WHO guidance - but are they really? Are they following the intent or the course of least resistance and effort?

The CDC issued interim guidance to businesses and schools three weeks ago and suggested organizations find ways to allow employees to telework. There is already a policy in place at AU for telework, and hundreds of administrative and non-customer facing employees already have signed agreements. Most of those employees can perform their job just as well at home as at work. So why are hundreds of people still sitting in cubicles, breathing the same air and being in close contact with each other?

AU's president assures us there are no confirmed cases in Augusta, and this is true, none are confirmed. Shall we wait for Betty the secretary to test positive, after she has been at work and infectious for several days? Perhaps Betty took her lunch meals in the hospital cafeteria and attended some meetings at Summerville. One little lady could infect patients, students and other employees - who in turn could infect families at home, elderly folks at church, etc. Yes, President Brooks Keel, there are no confirmed cases in Augusta now, heaven help you when one of the first is Betty the secretary.

Augusta University's ponderous, slow, naive policy regarding social distancing, because of the size of its population and the implications that has for the larger community, endangers all of Augusta. Yes, COVID19 will come, but we do not necessarily have to have a major outbreak - not if decision-makers are wise and proactive. We are not seeing a lot of that from AU right now.

AU needs to send all administrative and non-customer facing employees home to work now. They need to figure out how to do virtual classes for their students. USC-Aiken has implemented this!

Update: 12 March 10pm -President Brooks Keel 'liked' my tweet congratulating AU for suspending classes while they try to figure out virtual instruction, so the leadership is hearing what I am saying.

The Master's

And then there is Augusta National and the Master's Tournament. The NBA just decided to forgo millions and cancel the season. Several other major entertainment and sports activities have done the same. The latest statement by the tournament says they plan to drive on. Completely irresponsible all things considered.

The folks in charge over there need to think and act a bit more socially responsible. Perhaps follow the NCAA example and play without a crowd.

Speak Up

Folks in Augusta need to speak up to both AU and the Master leadership as well as other large organizations. Yes, no Master's Tournament hurts us all. Avoidance of pain is no reason to be irresponsible. For AU, working from home confounds the backward minds of bureaucrats, but this is 2020, get over it already.

Decision-makers will be judged by how COVID19 plays out in Augusta. Now is the time to act, not after a few test positive and dozens are running around undetected.

Neither the Master's nor AU can ever say they were not advised - No matter what naysaying eggheads say that this is just the flu, the leadership has been advised at least once to use better sense.

(I also sent theses concerns to Russell Keen, CoS at Augusta University. If the leadership of these two organizations does not significantly change their current course and if people are harmed as a result - none of these folks can claim in court defending against lawsuits, to their boards in defense of their jobs nor to God himself that they ought not to have known better).

Update: 12 March 9:29 pm I reached out to Austin Rhodes, and he read this post. let's see if he turns his voice toward this issue.

Although in Austin's words: " The Austin Rhodes Show I was referring to the physical aspects of the illness...not the ridiculous public behavior that has taken over. When the American body count hits 61 thousand let me know. Until then...my point stands. " Apparently there is nothing to see here for Mr. Rhodes.

You are wrong on this one Austin - but we did not need you to weigh in to get the right things done. carry on man.

15 March: Perhaps the last Update to this post for a bit. I ran across an article posted on Government Tech, in their Emergency Management section. The article was written by the Augusta Chronicle but quoted an 'expert' on these matters from Augusta University.

Coronavirus Not Likely to Become a Big Problem for U.S., Expert Says (yep, he said that)

Now I am not an expert, but I watched the events in China via foreign news outlets, they covered it early and extensively unlike the US media which was focused on silly domestic politics. It was obvious to me that there was something to this disease. When a country cordons off a city of 60 million, it is something to pay attention to, it is not insignificant.

Here are a few things Dr. Jose Vazquez, the expert on these issues from Augusta University, said on January 28th.

  •  it is unlikely to spread as it did in China (wrong)
  • It's possible that it is going to be transmissible or contagious while the patient is asymptomatic (right)
  • I think here we're ready for it...everything is in place. ( does not appear so, based upon so little testing, we shall see)
  • I don't think it will be that big of a deal here, I really don't. (probably wrong, will be proven so in a few days - it is 15 March as I state that)
  • I'd hate for people to start freaking out and changing trips here. (like the guy that just tested positive back in Ohio, he took a cruise early march - sure no need to cancel trips)
  • I don't foresee seeing a lot of cases in North America and in Europe. (WRONG. Italy, Spain, and France all disagree. In the US over 1700 new cases were reported between 13 and 14 March - without robust testing! )

With spot-on expert advice like this, we might perhaps forgive the delays, and trepidations described above. That is if it were not to easy for even an ordinary guy like me to see the facts way back in late January without the help of an expert.