Miller urges caution as businesses open

  • Folks traveled to downtown Blue Ridge to shop and pick up take-out Saturday, May 2 following the re-opening of businesses statewide.
    Folks traveled to downtown Blue Ridge to shop and pick up take-out Saturday, May 2 following the re-opening of businesses statewide.
  • Fannin Regional Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dillon Miller
    Fannin Regional Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Dillon Miller

As business across Fannin County re-open following COVID-19 closures, business owners will be vital in helping to decrease the spread of the virus by requiring employees to wear masks and sanitize properly, Fannin Regional Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer D. Dillon Miller said during a webinar hosted by the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority.

“The way I look at it right now is the governor has kind of shifted the responsibility from the politicians and the political community to the business community,” Miller said. “So it’s now up to you, as business leaders, to make choices and make decisions within your business that will help prevent the spread of the disease, because as you know, and as a lot of people have seen, it doesn’t take a whole lot of initial people getting infected for it to begin to expand and really blow up within an area.”

Social distancing is the best tool for people to utilize at this time, he said. However, as businesses begin to re-open social distancing can be harder to do. Miller suggests following the governor’s guidelines, among other things, when re-opening businesses to increase sanitation and decrease spread.

“The one thing that I have seen, that we’re not doing as well as what I think I’d like to see, and that’s the use of mask wearing,” Miller said. “It’s a very simple thing to do. We’ve seen how much it will do as far as the prevention of spread, but I think the key with mask wearing is it just has to be as close to universally utilized as it can be. The mask wearing is more of a protective option for those people that are around you, but if the people around you aren’t wearing a mask, then you aren’t protected in the same fashion.”

He suggested that business owners require employees to wear and utilize masks while working, and, if possible, require patrons to use them as well.

“You can look at it in this way, it’s almost like not wearing a mask is like smoking in public,” he said. “You wouldn’t allow someone to come into your business and smoke a cigarette in your place of business. You would politely ask them to leave and smoke outside. If they’re not wearing a mask, it’s the exact same thing, only worse in some ways, because that medical risk is much higher. You can die from this exposure. I think you should have that same kind of philosophy. The best that you can do to enforce that will go a long way.”

He also encouraged all community members to wear masks when out in the community, because “the mask wearing component is just so vital in us being able to open up and interact with each other within that six foot range.”

During the webinar, a participant asked if gloves were effective when shopping or waiting on customers. Miller said that gloves are only helpful if the user does not touch their face or multiple surfaces. He said frequent hand washing is a more productive practice.

According to Miller, strict guidelines for COVID-19 testing severely limited testing in the early weeks of the virus in Fannin County.

“I think we’re going to find that we had a significantly higher number of people that dealt with the virus early on that just weren’t tested,” he said. “Fortunately, for us locally, we weren’t impacted in the same way on the in-patient side, so we’ve been doing out-patient testing a lot more vigorously than what they were doing in the larger metro areas.”

He said contact tracing hasn’t been conducted effectively statewide.

“What we did early on with the Blue Ridge Medical Group, is we were really aggressive about contact tracing,” Miller said. “You guys may have seen that Fannin had way more cases than like Gilmer or Union did early on. I think that’s because were were just really careful and aggressive about testing all those people that they came in contact with. We found several cases that we ended up finding, that they were in touch with, and then stopped those people from spreading it any farther.”

Tourism could potentially have a high impact on the spread of the virus in Fannin County, and the community wouldn’t be able to see the effects for a couple of weeks after visitors come.

“Say we have a large influx of people that come into our community over the weekend, we won’t really see what that will do to our community for about two weeks in terms of when the data actually gets published,” Miller said. “Any of this social distancing kind of reduction that we’re seeing right now for our state, we’ll know in two weeks what impact that’s having at that point.”

According to Development Authority Executive Director Christie Gribble, the chamber has cloth masks to share with membership. There will be a limit of five per business.