A Funeral, a Mourner, and a Murder Trial Equal a COVID-19 Outbreak

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Photo by Timothy L Brock on Unsplash

Down in tiny Albany, Doughtery County, Georgia, 837 people have tested positive for Coronavirus, 32 of whom died after contracting the virus as of 1:05 pm on Friday, April 3, 2020 (See https://www.phoebehealth.com/patients-and-visitors/coronavirus/coronavirus-update).

Of the 176 Georgians who have died from this respiratory disease, Albany’s 32 deaths are more than Atlanta’s 23 as of Thursday evening, April 2, 2020 (See https://www.ajc.com/news/breaking-news/breaking-coronavirus-cases-top-georgia-163-deaths-reported/3jRQEx8o1JUecocEVUz9KO/).

The number of deaths is surprising because Albany has less than 100,000 residents, while Atlanta has 486,000 as of the 2017 census report.

Albany began incubating the virus three weeks ago when a visitor from Atlanta drove down to Albany to mourn the death of a friend from causes unrelated to the Coronavirus. This visitor tested positive for COVID-19 and, according to local authorities, infected the local mourners. It is unknown if the visitor knew before traveling to Albany if the virus was present.

According to Governor Brian Kemp, following the funeral, a resident of Albany, who attended the funeral, “visited another funeral, and fish fry,” then reported to the Dougherty County Courthouse to discharge the civil responsibility of serving as a juror in a murder case. The trial lasted one full week. By the end of the trial, workers throughout the courthouse were sick, including judges, courthouse staffers, and other jurors.

Albany’s struggles with the pandemic have received extensive news coverage from all of the national television networks and newspapers like the Atlanta Journal & Constitution and The New York Times.

Recently, Probate Court Judge Nancy S. Stephenson became the first judge in Dougherty County to die from the coronavirus complications. Her office is in the courthouse where the murder trial was held (See https://wgxa.tv/news/local/dougherty-county-judge-dies-after-complications-with-covid-19).

Also, Judge Stephenson’s clerk, Delma Hope, a 25-year veteran in the Probate Court, is battling the Coronavirus.

This week Governor Kemp finally got around to declaring a shelter in place order. In making his announcement, Kemp said that he was unaware until this week that asymptomatic people could spread the virus.

Albany, Georgia stands for the proposition that a travel ban if instituted early can prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Harold Michael Harvey is the author of Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. He is a Past President of the Gate City Bar Association. He is the recipient of Gate City’s R. E. Thomas Civil Rights Award, which he received for his pro bono representation of Black college students arrested during Freaknik celebrations in the mid to late 1990s. An avid public speaker, contact him at hmharvey@haroldmichaelharvey.com.

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Harvey is Living Now Book Awards 2020 Bronze Medalist for his memoir Freaknik Lawyer: A Memoir on the Craft of Resistance. Available at haroldmichaelharvey.com

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