What does it cost to clean a courthouse?

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courthouse

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – In the past week, two county courthouses closed due to confirmed COVID-19 cases. This week county commissioners revealed two vastly different bills for sanitization services. However, neither expenditure is feasible as a regular expense for counties if more virus cases arise within government offices.

Gilmer County paid Restoration 1 out of Dawsonville $6,007.81 for cleaning a 106,000 square foot courthouse and road department building. Fannin County Commissioners to pay a maximum of $70,059 to American Property Restoration out of Atlanta for cleaning its 69,752 square foot courthouse.

Since Tuesday, American Property Restoration dropped the price by five percent to $66,500.

Cutout from the American Property Restoration invoice.

Each county received disinfectant fog and surface wipe downs, but Fannin’s sanitization process included a negative air machine. It circulated the fog throughout the ventilation system to ensure the removal of COVID-19 throughout the building. Other additional charges in the Fannin bill include HEPA filters, labor for wiping down equipment, and PPE for workers. The 30 counts/charges for HEPA filters and labor for equipment wipe down was listed at $30 each.  

The 24-person team required heavy-duty disposable PPE, and the company charged $48 per person. 

As for disinfectant fog, Fannin paid $1.39 per square foot for the first 30,000 square feet and 50 percent off that price for the remaining 39,752 square feet. Gilmer paid six cents for 80,000 square feet at the courthouse.

View the American Property Restoration invoice and the Restoration 1 invoice.

Given the emergency nature of the COVID-19 situation, neither county had time to bid out the process. Both operated within a short window to quickly clean and reopen the courthouses. 

Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton told Fetch Your News that this was a “true emergency;” he didn’t have time to shop around. Also, American Property Restoration specialized in COVID-19 cleaning.

“Not a matter to see who could do it the cheapest,” said Helton. It was about protecting the citizens of Fannin County from an unknown element. The advice about preventing COVID-19 continues to change almost daily.

The fans placed within the Fannin Courthouse to disperse the fog.

Restoration 1 that cleaned Gilmer’s courthouse also had a professional COVID-19 virus disinfection team.

However, Fannin can apply for CARES Act funding from the State and receive reimbursement for virus-related expenses. Helton added that the knowledge of the funds made him slightly more comfortable with the price. 

“If we prevented one citizen from going to ICU that cost would be comparable to $66,500 and would not be eligible for CARES funds,” added Helton.

Fannin hasn’t yet applied for the reimbursement because the state hasn’t made the portal available to smaller counties at this time.

In June, Gov. Kemp issued a letter explaining CARES Act funding policies to state counties. Previously, only the top five counties with the highest percentage of cases had access to the funds.

According to the letter of guidance from Gov. Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their 30 percent share of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.”

How to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in courthouses

Turning to the future, Helton agreed that it’s not feasible for Fannin to spend $66,500 again, and the county probably won’t perform another cleaning to this extent at the courthouse. Possible future options include cleaning the office with the confirmed case was located, but they haven’t made a final decision.

The commissioners started requiring employees under their authority to wear masks while at work and strongly encouraged the practice among everyone in the courthouse, including the public. Temperature checks also began this week for those visiting the facility.

American Property Restoration crew in front of the courthouse

According to the CDC, the virus spreads “mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.” By wearing a mask in public areas, employees limit the spread of those droplets.

Helton wanted people to feel safe to visit the courthouse once it reopened.

 

 

Dr. William Whaley and Dr. Raymond Tidman discussed the effectiveness of closing to perform extensive cleanings on courthouses. Both agreed that cases will occur, but spending exorbitant amounts of money isn’t necessary.

“You can teach your own housekeeping staff what they need to know if there has been this virus [case],” explained Dr. Whaley. “If you just shut your doors for 24-hours, the virus is going to die because it doesn’t stick around on surfaces for terribly long.”

Afterward, if someone cleaned the surfaces and highly handled areas, the virus should be removed for that day. However, the practice must occur every day at the end of the day. The county and schools can go over cleaning protocols with their janitorial staff to begin COVID-19 recommended sanitization measures.

CDC guidance about disinfecting cites that coronaviruses die on surfaces in a matter of hours or days. To safely remove COVID-19 from a surface, first clean the area with soap and water, then an EPA-approved spray on the surface. If an EPA-approved disinfectant is unavailable, 1/3 cup of bleach added to one gallon of water, or a 70% alcohol solution will disinfect a surface. Bleach can’t be mixed with other cleaning and disinfection products together. The effectiveness of bleach solutions lasts for up to 24 hours.

Janitorial staff must wear the proper PPE to protect them from harmful chemicals and the virus.

Disinfection plans can adapt as more information becomes available about the spread of COVID-19.

“A COVID virus here or there is going to happen, and you do your cleaning, and that person goes home for a day or two and gets over it,” added Dr. Tidman. “The hair on fire stuff needs to quit.”

Update: Two deaths, 157 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Fannin County

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is reporting that there have been 157 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Fannin County. This information comes from the DPH Thursday, July 16 report at 7:oo p.m. DPH is also reporting that 12 of these cases have required hospitalizations.

The latest DPH report is also confirming a second Covid-19 related death for a Fannin County resident.

The total number of 157 confirmed positive cases for the county is a cumulative number and includes cases dating back to March. DPH is not reporting the number of recoveries due to the inefficiency in tracking cases. Instead of recording recoveries, many states are reporting “known outcomes”. These cases are where a patient required hospitalization. In these cases, it is observable to medical to staff whether or not the patient recovered.

Fannin County has seen a spike in the recent number of cases over the last couple of weeks, with cases jumping by sometimes 20 in a single day. This is due to the virus seeing a resurgence in spread and also due to the availability of testing ,with more people getting tested.

At this time, Fetch Your News does not have any additional details about these cases.  We will bring you updates as soon as information is available for the public.

The total cumulative number of cases in Georgia as of the July 16, 7:00 p.m. update is now total number of confirmed cases 135,183 with 14,647 hospitalized (2,781 ICU Admissions), and 3,132 deaths. 1,198,678 tests have been administered in Georgia.

Timeline of First 35 Confirmed Cases in Fannin County:

  • First Case – March 24, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Second Case – March 27, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Third Case – March 27, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fourth Case – March 31, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fifth Case – April 1, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Sixth Case – April 1, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Seventh and Eighth Cases – April 2, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Ninth Case – April 6, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth Cases – April 13, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirteenth Case – April 14, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fourteenth Case – April 15, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Fifteenth Case – April 17, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Sixteenth Case – April 19, 12:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Cases – April 20, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • First Death Reported – April 20, 7:00 p.m. DPH Update
  • ***April 22, 12:00 p.m. DPH update; DPH rescinded the death reported on April 20 bringing Fannin’s count back to zero deaths. Also rescinded was the additional case reported on April 20, bringing Fannin’s total confirmed cases back to 18.
  • Nineteenth and Twentieth cases – April 22, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-first case – April 24, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-second and Twenty-third cases – April 26, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-fourth case – April 27, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-fifth and Twenty-sixth cases – April 28, 6:00 p.m. DPH update
  • First Death Reported – April 28, 6:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth cases – April 29, 7:00 p.m. DPH update
  • Twenty-ninth case – April 30, 6:40 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirtieth case – May 1, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-first case – May 2, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-second case – May 5, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-third case – May 6, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-fourth case – May 7, 6:25 p.m. DPH update
  • Thirty-fifth case – May 12, 7:00 p.m. DPH update

*Fetch Your News has chosen to report on cases confirmed by the Georgia Department of Health (DPH) only. These reports may not reflect real-time spread as the laboratories processing COVID-19 tests are reportedly backlogged by several days. Fetch Your News is also reaching out to local sources to confirm positive cases before writing articles on the subject. 

 Inconsistency in data being reported:

The Georgia Department of Health originally reported one death in Fannin County due to Covid-19 in their April 20, 7:00 p.m. update. This update listed the victim as a 74 year old male with underlying health conditions. 

DPH also reported a 19 confirmed case of Covid-19 in Fannin County.

In their April 22, 12:00 p.m. update, DPH rescinded both the reported death and additional case. This brings Fannin County total cases to 18 with zero deaths from Covid-19.

This is not the first time that there have been discrepancies in DPH reporting for Fannin County. DPH had reported a 10th case earlier in April, but then later rescinded this case bring the total back down to 9.

First Case in Fannin County Original Story Below:

The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed on Tuesday, March 24 in their 7:00 p.m. update, that Fannin County has recorded its first confirmed case of Coronavirus (Covid-19).

While there have been several suspected cases in Fannin County, until today all tests had come back negative. 

The first confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Georgia was announced by state officials on March 2. These cases were of a Fulton man in his 50’s that had recently returned from a work trip in Milan, and his 15-year-old son.

Georgia’s total number of positive cases confirmed by DPH as of 7:00 p.m. on March 24, has risen to 1097. 

At this time DPH has noted 38 deaths related to Covid-19 in Georgia.

Neighboring counties are reporting zero cases in Gilmer County and zero cases in Union County.

DPH updates the list of confirmed cases in Georgia at noon and 7 p.m. each day. The numbers are expected to increase as more testing becomes available to the public.

FYN will bring you more details as they become available.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Miller questions district’s plans to reopen schools

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Dr. Dillon Miller of Blue Ridge Medical Group spoke publicly at the recent Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) meeting about his concerns with the district’s plans to reopen schools in August.

Miller was previously consulted before the decision was made to close schools, prior to the state mandated closure, in March. However, Miller was not a part of the process in the decisions made to reopen.

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Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Medical Group.

Tonight the Fannin BOE presented their plans for returning to school in the fall. These plans were finalized in the absence of my husband, the Chief Medical Officer at Fannin Regional Hospital,” Jocelyn Miller, Dillon Miller’s wife, said in a statement on Facebook following the BOE decision.

Jocelyn went on to say, “He has no agenda other than to protect the lives of students, teachers, and staff in our community. His view is limited to the best medical science that currently exists and is in accordance with regulations outlined by the CDC.”

Among Miller’s concerns are the district’s lack of planning to require students and staff to social distance or in the absence of distancing, wear a mask.

I wear a mask all day. I do not enjoy it, but I do it because it keeps people safe,” Miller spoke to the BOE, adding, “Some are concerned about it depriving your body of oxygen, this is not true.  What is true is that If everyone is wearing a mask, this significantly reduces transmission of covid-19.”

Miller spoke of the seriousness that he has witnessed with Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and the possibility of spiking cases in the Fall and Winter months: “This is not the flu. Never in my experience as a physician have I seen tertiary hospital ICUs filled to capacity in July.”

As a community physician my greatest concern is the safety and health of the teachers and staff. These individuals are on the front lines caring for our children and putting themselves at the greatest risk,” Miller stated explaining that while children might display minor symptoms or none at all, they are still able to pass the virus on to those in more susceptible age groups.

According to Miller complacency could lead to Fannin County seeing a more serious outbreak, like those seen in other counties in Georgia.

Dr. Dillon Miller’s full statement to the Fannin County Board of Education:

I want to briefly go over the medical recommendations for preventing the spread of covid 19 in schools.

There are three ways we know we can prevent the spread of Covid 19

  1.     Handwashing
  2.     6-foot social distancing
  3.     Wearing a face mask

Handwashing is self-explanatory, so I would like to discuss the other two.

Studies show that if you are within six feet of an infected individual in an enclosed space for longer than 15 minutes, your chances of catching covid-19 increase significantly. Under typical conditions students and teachers are within feet of one another for hours at a time. If it is not possible to spread students six feet apart, the science clearly states that masks must be worn. This is the policy being enforced at universities around the state.  

As a physician I cannot support a plan moving forward that does not mandate 6 foot social distancing and when this is not possible have a mask requirement.

I wear a mask all day. I do not enjoy it, but I do it because it keeps people safe. Some are concerned about it depriving your body of oxygen, this is not true.  What is true is that If everyone is wearing a mask, this significantly reduces transmission of covid-19.  Remember masks protect others more than they protect the wearer.  This is one of the best weapons in our arsenal.

Some people believe that children cannot become infected with covid-19. While children under 15 are less likely to be infected and will develop less severe complications, there is still debate about their level of infectiousness. Teenagers, however, are more susceptible than small children and more likely to spread the disease. Some of the first cases in Fannin County involved high school students.

As a community physician my greatest concern is the safety and health of the teachers and staff. These individuals are on the front lines caring for our children and putting themselves at the greatest risk. Masks and six-foot social distancing are their only forms of protection. If you are not mandating masks or social distancing you are denying them a safe work environment.

This is not the flu. Never in my experience as a physician have I seen tertiary hospital ICUs filled to capacity in July. Some hospitals that regularly accept transfers of the sickest patients are not accepting transfers due to lack of beds. July is when doctors go on vacation and relax, this is not normal. Expect the fall and winter to see even more cases.

Due to the bold choices made by the board of education and community in March, we in Fannin county have not experienced a surge of covid cases like other areas in the state but that can change if we become complacent.

Thank you and I pray for your health and safety.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Students return to school August 7th : What to expect

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner
Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Students of the Fannin County School System (FCSS) will have the option of returning to school in a modified traditional setting or utilizing online learning for the 2020-21 school year.

School Administration released their plans for reopening schools at the Board of Education (BOE) regular July meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon gave the board an overview of what to expect when school comes back into session. 

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Rigdon presented the BOE with administration’s plan to reopen schools.

The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) released guidelines in early June for schools to consider when reopening in the State of Georgia. These guidelines, however, were only recommendations and the ultimate decisions for school operations were left up to the districts.

The DOE guidelines, along with guidance from both local and state authorities, as well as guardian and faculty input helped shape the approach that the FCSS is choosing to implement for the time being.

“The important part for us was to get the information and make the best decisions that we can,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke of the system’s plan. “This plan is subject to change. We need to think of this as a living document. It will be modified as new things are learned.”

 

***Important Dates***

Traditional school, or in person education will begin on August 7, 2020.

Faculty and Staff are to report on August 3, 2020.

Online Learning will also begin on August 7, 2020.

Parents and Guardians may enroll their child for Online Learning between July 10 – July 20, 2020.

 

***Online Learning***

For those not comfortable with the traditional in class setting, an online option will be available. Assistant Superintendent Rigdon stressed that this online option will not mirror the distance learning that the school put in place upon the mandatory closure earlier this year.

The online learning platform will be run through a 3rd party that is yet to be determined. The platform will provide instruction to the child with the parent or guardian being a “learning coach”.

Students enrolled in online learning will spend the majority of the traditional school day (8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) either working online or working to complete assignments given online. Attendance will be taken and monitored via login and assignments completed.

There will be FCSS personnel assigned to check on each child’s progress. The “learning coaches” will be given the name of someone at the school who can help them navigate the program or assist with issues.

The content of the online learning platform, according to FCSS, will be “rigorous and graded”.

Students enrolled in Online Learning will be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities. 

While the FCSS is not requiring that students sign a contract to remain in the online platform once enrolled (many other districts have this requirement), they would like to see those enrolled stay with the program through the first semester or for the entirety of the school year.

“We are not asking parents to sign a commitment, but we do want them to be extremely thoughtful as they make that decision because it is going to require us to allocate and spend funds that could be better spent if they’re not going to stick with the program,” Rigdon explained of the need for students and guardians to consider the decision heavily.

Rigdon did add for those who enroll but discover that the online platform is not working for them, “We are never turning a child away from our schools.”

Students utilizing the Online Learning platform will complete assignments from a school issued device. FCSS will provide a WiFi hotspot for students without internet, but these hotspots work much like mobile phones, so if you are an area with poor cell phone service it is likely that the hotspot would not work for you.

Online Learning is available for children in grades Kindergarten – 12. This includes children with IEPs (Individualized Educational Program). Online Learning is not available for Pre-K students.

 

***Traditional School***

Masks are optional for both students and personnel. Parents or Guardians must provide a mask for students who wish to wear one throughout the day.

Temperatures will be taken for all students, staff, parents and guardians each morning upon arriving at the campus. Anyone with a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not be permitted to stay at school. 

Hand sanitizer will be available to all children and adults before entering the school buildings.

Fannin County, School System, Board of Education, Reopening, First Day, School Year, 2020, 2021, 2020-21, Covid-19, Coronavirus, Department of Education, Georgia, Online Learning, Traditional, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Sarah Rigdon, Masks, Safety

Parents, Guardians, and Staff completed a survey on key issues. This helped shape the district’s plan to reopen.

Elementary teachers will move the students instead of students changing classes. Middle and High School students will not be allowed to congregate in hallways. When and where possible class changes for Middle and High School students will be staggered or hallway traffic patterns will be addressed to prevent overcrowding.

When possible students will be assigned seats and will keep the same seat during the instructional class period.

Each school will “develop school level procedures” to limit the number of students in the cafeteria. This may include “grab and go” where students will pick up meals and eat in a classroom or designated area.

The final plan for buses has not been finalized. However, hand sanitizer will be available for anyone upon boarding a bus. Buses will be sanitized daily and ventilated to the extent feasible when in route.

Parents and guardians will be notified of any adjustments to bus routes or pick up times before the first day of school. Requirement to wear a mask while on a bus has not been decided, but parents and guardians will be notified of this decision as well.

Parents and guardians will be allowed to walk their child to class during the first few days of school but must wear a mask.  Schools will determine when parents and guardians will no longer have access beyond the main entrance.  

FCSS states “We want to keep the lines of communication strong, but we need to limit the number of people flowing into and out of the buildings each day.”

 

***If Schools Close Again***

Those students enrolled in Online Learning would continue the course that they are taking with no change. Students of the traditional classroom setting would switch to online learning but follow a model similar to that that was implemented in March 2020.

 

The FCSS states of the opening plan that “plans may change based on future orders from the Governor, the Department of Community Health, or the Department of Education”.

“Our desire is always to operate a traditional school with face to face,” Rigdon said of the hope for all students eventually to return to a traditional setting, “We believe our instruction is best at that level.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Gilmer and Fannin Extend Judicial Emergency under order of Chief Judge

Featured, Featured Stories, News
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NORTH GEORGIA – Both Gilmer and Fannin have received a new order entitled “Amended Third Order Extending Declaration of Judicial Emergency” closing and requiring deep cleaning for offices in the courthouses of both counties.

The order, sign by Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, states that a number of courthouse employees are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting testing results. Due to this the Chief Judge conferred with Board of Commissioner (BOC) Chairmen from each county and has declared the situation beyond the ability to continue with regular work.

The court has ordered that the counties deep clean and keep closed the following offices:

  • Fannin County Superior Court Judge
  • Fannin County Juvenile Court Judge
  • Fannin County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
  • Fannin County Probate Court
  • Fannin County Magistrate Court
  • Fannin County District Attorney
  • Fannin County CASA
  • Gilmer County Superior Court Judge
  • Gilmer County Juvenile Court Judge
  • Gilmer County Clerk of Superior and Juvenile Courts
  • Gilmer County Probate Court
  • Gilmer County Magistrate Court
  • Gilmer County District Attorney
  • Gilmer County Misdemeanor Probation
  • Gilmer County CASA

Additionally, Gilmer County has also closed the offices of the Gilmer County Tax Assessor and the Gilmer County Tax Commissioner. These offices are also ordered to perform a deep cleaning and remain closed until further orders are given.

Just as with the previous Judicial Emergency Orders, Remote Videoconference hearings are being utilized and scheduled. The order states that all other provisions of the previous order are still in effect.

This all comes after the announcements of some of Gilmer and Fannin Elected Officials and Courts closing earlier today due to COVID-19 exposures.

order order

Possible COVID-19 exposures in Gilmer and Fannin’s Court Systems

News
https://gilmer.fetchyournews.com/2020/07/07/possible-covid-19-exposures-in-gilmer-and-fannins-court-systems/

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Several offices in both Fannin and Gilmer County are closing today as reports indicate one or more employees may have had exposures to the Coronavirus in recent days.

The District Attorney’s Office in both Fannin and Gilmer have closed today. Additionally, Gilmer’s Probate Office has confirmed closing and the Gilmer Board of Commissioners has cancelled its Wednesday morning Work Session citing a “recent spike in Covid-19 cases.”

exposures

The Gilmer County Probate Court released a statement with this photo saying they would be closed immediately and “until further notice.”

The Probate Court of Gilmer County issued a statement on Social Media saying, “The Probate Court Office of Gilmer County will be closed effectively immediately and remain closed until further notice.”

FYN has also confirmed that every office of an elected official in Gilmer County has been closed until Monday along with the court systems with the exception of the Sheriff’s Office.

According to County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin Magistrate Judge Brian Jones, Fannin County’s Court systems are also shutting down including Superior Court, Magistrate Court, and Probate Court. The closings come “by order of the Chief Judge Brenda Weaver.”

According to Fannin County Commission Chairman Stan Helton, only the second floor of the courthouse is closed and it will reopen on Monday after it has been sanitized.

Despite the offices closing and courts canceling, the Gilmer Courthouse and Fannin Courthouse are both, as a whole, not closed at this time. Citizens may still enter the courthouses.

Reports are coming in that in Gilmer, Sheriff’s Deputies at the security checkpoint in the entrance are informing citizens of the offices and courts closing and are directing visitors accordingly.

Additionally, FYN confirmed that the Gilmer Planning and Zoning Office was closed late last week due to possible exposures of an employee.

Sources tell FYN that at least one of the exposures this week may have been related to a recent church revival held in Gilmer County. However, no cases have been officially confirmed at this time.

 

Operation changes to COVID-19 specimen collection sites

Health, Lifestyle
specimen collection sites

GAINESVILLE, GA – Nine specimen collection sites operated jointly by the Georgia National Guard and Augusta University ended operations effective May 30. As of June 1, several sites changed their operating hours. Those interested in receiving a COVID-19 test are strongly encouraged to call and make an appointment.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) will continue to operate 136 specimen collection sites throughout the state, and encourages Georgians wanting to be tested for COVID-19 to contact their local health department to schedule an appointment.

During the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Georgia National Guard and Augusta University joined DPH in its testing efforts by providing a web-based screening and scheduling platform and additional specimen collection sites. To date, more than 44,000 people have been tested at AU Health and partnered sites.

“This partnership with the Guard and Augusta University was invaluable to the COVID-19 response in Georgia,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner. “We are grateful for their service to all Georgians, and for the support and capacity they provided DPH to increase testing for COVID-19.”

The Guard will continue to provide staffing and logistical help at DPH specimen collection sites, as well as its mission of assisting DPH with testing residents and staff in long-term care facilities. Augusta University will provide ongoing specimen collections at its two sites in the Augusta area; Christenberry Fieldhouse in Augusta and Patriot’s Park in Columbia County.

COVID-19 testing is available to all Georgians, whether they have symptoms or not. Individuals wanting to be tested should contact their local health department to schedule an appointment at a location convenient to them. Contact information for local health departments and specimen collection sites can be found on the DPH website at dph.ga.gov. People can also use the AU Health ExpressCare app or call the hotline at 706-721-1852 to be scheduled at a DPH or AU Health-operated location.

For more information about COVID-19 visit https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

Kemp opens bars and renews state of emergency

State & National
bars

ATLANTA, Ga – Gov. Brian Kemp decided to continue the state of emergency and stay at home order for the elderly and at-risk individuals through July 12. However, the governor also announced the reopening of bars, amusement parks, night clubs, professional sports, and overnight summer camps.

Music venues must remain closed.

Kemp issued timelines for the lifting of each restriction.

May 31 Openings

  • Overnight Summer Camps

June 1 Openings

  • Gatherings of 25 people will be allowed – if the area meets space requirements
  • Bars
  • Night Clubs
  • Professional Sports
  • Amateur Sports

June 12 Openings

  • Amusement Parks
  • Water Parks

Georgia will not mandate citizens to wear masks, but Kemp highly encourages everyone to wear masks in crowded areas and public places.

66 percent of nursing home residents have been tested for COVID-19. On June 1, the Department of Public Health will move to once-daily updates of coronavirus numbers.

Fannin Schools prepare for State Budget cuts

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is prepared to “weather the storm” as expectations of State Budget cuts loom over next year’s financials.

“We get a great deal of insight into how we can budget from the legislature and so we’re waiting on that information,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney addressed the district’s finances at the May Board of Education meeting. “One thing that we do know though from the Governor’s Office is there is going to be an across the board 14 percent. How that translates is yet to be seen.” 

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s office has been in contact with several state departments to let them know that budget cuts will be inevitable and there is expected to be a 14 percent cut to all state agencies This cut includes Georgia’s public schools.

The Georgia State Legislature, who sets these budgets, is still in session and have yet to announce a finalization due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Legislators are expected to resume meetings in June of this year.

The lag in legislation makes it difficult for schools to move forward with fiscal year 2021 budgeting, but FCSS is on schedule and planning for what may come.

“That amount is significant for the Fannin County School District,” Gwatney said of the proposed cut to state funds, but added that through conservative decisions in the past, FCSS has a reserve and is in a fortunate situation of being better prepared to “weather this financial storm” than many other districts.

Gwatney also pointed out that Fannin County is a debt free school system which will aid in financial stability for Fiscal Year 2021. 

Board member Lewis Deweese questioned what the budget cuts would affect and specifically questioned its effects on personnel.

“The guidance we have been given is to expect a 14 percent decrease,” FCSS Director of Finance Susan Wynn answered, “It will decrease our revenues in our total operating budget, but we have a very sound reserve so it’s not expected to affect any personnel.” 

Dr. Gwatney added, “I believe there will be an economic recovery. I think it will take time, but our reserve will allow us to get to that point. It’s my intention to protect all people involved with the Fannin County School System. That would include, of course, the students with that reserve, and our personnel with that reserve, and also the community, the taxpayers, with that reserve.”

Fannin County’s monthly financial update given at the meeting showed that the school system is still operating and maintaining a healthy financial status.

Wynn, who was recently awarded for distinction and excellent financial reporting by the Georgia Department of Audits, gave an update with 75 percent of fiscal year 2020 complete.

This update showed that revenues were up and expenditures were down for the district from last year. 

Expenses showed $26,015,727.37 so far for the year. This number represents 70.31 percent of expenditures budgeted. At this time last year, expenditures were at 72 percent.

While SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) did not meet expectations for the month, it was still the highest amount collected for a March, bringing in $445,424.87. This collection showed a 0.033 percent growth over March of 2019 despite the state shutting down for a portion of this time.

Numbers for April and May are being eagerly anticipated as a statewide Shelter In Place was issued and recently lifted. 

“It will be a good indicator of the economy,” Gwatney said of awaiting the SPLOST collection numbers for April and May.

The FCSS will move forward with the budgeting process for Fiscal Year 2021 with tentative dates set in August to adopt a budget and set a millage rate.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Georgia DPH distributes Remdesivir to hospitals for treatment of COVID-19

Health, Press Release
remdesivir

Atlanta – The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is distributing an initial allotment of the drug Remdesivir received from the federal government. Georgia received 30 cases, with 40 vials of the drug per case, enough to treat about 110 patients, depending on the duration of an individual’s treatment. Remdesivir is an antiviral medicine being used to treat hospitalized patients with serious symptoms caused by COVID-19 like low oxygen levels or pneumonia. It has been found to shorten the duration of disease in patients being treated in inpatient hospital settings.

Remdesivir is given intravenously (IV) and decreases the amount of coronavirus in the body, helping patients recover faster.

The distribution plan for Remdesivir in Georgia was developed by DPH leadership, including district health directors and emergency preparedness staff, in accordance with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for its use. It is based on the number of patients on ventilators, the most severely ill, and clinical best practices.

Georgia hospitals receiving Remdesivir reported 10 or more COVID-19 positive patients on ventilators, in addition to patients currently being treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a machine that takes over the work of the heart and lungs. These criteria are subject to change based on the availability of Remdesivir and
the development of patient care at hospital facilities across the state.

The following hospitals are receiving Remdesivir; Tift Regional Medical Center, Northeast Georgia Medical Center, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, Grady Health System, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown, and Augusta University Medical Center.

“DPH is pleased to have the opportunity to share this promising treatment with hospitals on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., DPH commissioner. “While this drug is not a cure for COVID-19, getting it into the hospitals and improving patient outcomes is moving in the right direction.”

Georgia has received a second, much larger allotment of Remdesivir. DPH is surveying hospitals statewide over the weekend to determine need. This second allotment will be distributed next week.

Gilead Sciences, Inc. committed to supplying approximately 607,000 vials of the experimental drug over the next six weeks to treat an estimated 78,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients under an emergency use agreement (EUA). The donation to the United States is part of 1.5 million vials of Remdesivir the company is donating worldwide.

Remdesivir has not been approved by the FDA for widespread use because it is considered investigational, and it is still being studied. Remdesivir was originally developed for use against Ebola. Clinical trials for Remdesivir were done in Georgia at Emory University Hospital.

For more information about COVID-19 visit https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

For updates on the COVID-19 situation as it develops, follow @GaDPH, @GeorgiaEMA, and @GovKemp on Twitter, and @GaDPH, @GEMA.OHS, and @GovKemp on Facebook

Chamber delivers tourism report to commissioners

Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Chamber

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Since short-term rentals reopened on May 1, Chamber of Commerce President Jan Hackett affirmed that people are returning to the mountains, but numbers are down from previous years.

Hackett delivered an update on the economic status of tourism in Fannin since the shutdown. It included shops, restaurants, lodging, and attractions.

“According to the vacation rental people, people are definitely coming, and the first weekend was probably busier than the second,” stated Hackett. “The first weekend it seemed to be a whole lot of second homeowners coming to open up their cabins and check on them.

61 percent of the rentals are reportedly full next weekend and the visitors are supposedly bringing supplies with them.

However, it seems like people make the decision on a whim instead of planning the trips out well in advance.

“They are planning their trips late. It’s like they are planning to come to the mountains in a week,” relayed Hackett.

Memorial Day is currently 55 percent booked, but June and July rental remain predominately empty.

A statistics company, AirDNA shows 30 percent of rentals booked for May 30, 27 percent the weekend of June 6, and 24 percent for July 4.

Hotel/ motel tax was down $60,000 dollars in April collections, which is based on March business. The county and chamber split the tax in half. The county’s amount goes toward the operating budget, and the chamber uses the tax to market for the county.

Hackett expects April collections to be down as much as $100,000 since Gov. Kemp halted all rentals with his shelter in place order.

“Basically, that looks like $80,000 down for the two months that we’ve been closed at least part of the time,” explained Hackett.

She added that April and May are some of Fannin’s slowest months, but May could be interesting because it will probably see more business than normal as people can travel and telework.

Of the 52 restaurants listed on the chamber’s website, only 13 are open for inside dining – nine in Blue Ridge and three in McCaysville. Hackett said around 20 percent of the restaurants are open and some only on weekends. Most restaurants are only open for dinner as well.

“I don’t expect that we’re going to have a whole lot of more restaurants open up until the governor relaxes some of the restrictions because it’s very restrictive and it would be hard for some of them to do it,” the chamber president pondered.

Kemp did make a few changes to his restrictions on May 12. Now restaurants can have up to 10 patrons per 300 sq. ft. of public space and seat groups up to ten people.

However, she assessed that 90 percent of the shops are open at least part of the week, mainly weekends. McCaysville shops are around 50 percent.

Hackett also spoke with Cesar Martinez, Downtown Development Authority Chairman. He said that downtown Blue Ridge is busy on weekends but not as busy as last year at this time. During the week, all businesses are slow.

He also reported to Hackett that the businesses require social distancing and offer hand sanitizer. Not all require masks and some customers are resisting wearing masks.

“Mercier’s is open, and they are requiring people to wear masks and they’ve met with some resistance from customers who just will leave rather than wear a mask,” said Hackett.

The chamber has provided six masks for each of the members who have requested them and delivered masks to shops that are open in Blue Ridge and McCaysville.

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is closed until June 1 at this time. The chamber’s visitor’s center is still closed until at least Memorial Day and the smaller centers will be closed even longer.

For those looking for more information and updates about businesses, visit blueridgemountains.com.

Feature image courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

Kemp changes restaurant and childcare restrictions

Announcements, State & National
childcare

ATLANTA, Ga – On May 12, Gov. Brian Kemp continued to ease restrictions on certain industries – restaurants and childcare – to assist Ga businesses as the state returns to normal.

Childcare facilities now can operate with up to 20 children in a classroom instead of 10 as long as the instructor-to-child ratio is maintained. Departments of Early Care and Learning and Public Health reportedly okayed this expansion and ensured it could be accomplished safely.

Many parents in Ga are returning to work and have encountered difficulty finding childcare services.

“Childcare facilities must continue to adhere to thirteen minimum, mandatory criteria to be able to operate, including strict screening procedures and sanitation mandates for frequently touched items and surfaces. In that same vein, countless families have reached out to my office to discuss how summer camps can safely operate as we battle the spread of COVID-19,” Kemp explained.

Summer day camps have also received the okay to open on May 14 if facilities can meet the 32 requirements developed by the Department of Public Health, constituents, and summer camp operators. The CDC has yet to weigh in on the criteria, but Kemp appeared confident that their plan would move forward.

However, overnight camps are still closed, but eventually, these facilities might be able to open under a case by case basis.

As for restaurants, those who have already opened or considering opening can now allow up to 10 patrons per 300 sq. feet and seat groups of 10. Previously the maximum number at a table was six.

Kemp praised the food industry, “Throughout this pandemic, our restaurant owners and their employees have done a remarkable job in keeping local families fed. These hardworking Georgians have followed the rules, doing the right thing, even when it wasn’t easy.”

Live performance venues, bars, and nightclubs must remain closed through May 31, 2020.

The social distancing and gathering ban on more than 10 people are still in effect unless six feet of separation is possible. The ban applied to all non-critical infrastructure businesses, local governments, and organizations of all types, including social groups, informal get-togethers, and recreational sports, just to name a few. Georgians can expect these protocols to last through at least the end of the month.

“We continue to strongly encourage people to wear face coverings when out in public, and we thank everyone for their willingness to do the right thing,” Kemp added. “The shelter in place provision for medically fragile and Georgians aged 65 and older remains in effect through June 12, 2020.”

Starting on May 18, state agencies will begin transitioning back into in-office services.

As of noon today, Georgia has received its first shipment of Remdesivir from the federal government – thirty cases with forty vials of the drug per case. The Department of Public Health will determine how it will be distributed.

Nursing Home Testing

Georgia’s National Guard has tested 46% of all nursing home residents and 24% of staff at those facilities. However, an estimated 46,000 people who still need to be tested. In total, the Guard has tested 142 nursing homes. The National Guard will continue to test everyone at these facilities until they reach 100 percent.

The press conference did address the re-testing of facilities is new cases are found after the initial testing. Department of Community Health releases daily updates on the status of COVID-19 in nursing homes across Ga.

“As we aggressively test more nursing homes and long-term care facilities, we may see a sharper increase in positive test results. By doing this, it will allow medical providers to intervene earlier and try to mitigate adverse outcomes among vulnerable Georgians. Right now, nursing home, assisted living, and personal care home residents and staff make up 18.5% of our total positive cases, and 49% of total deaths involve nursing home, assisted living, and personal care home residents. We ask everyone to continue to protect the elderly and medically fragile, and we will continue to work around the clock to ensure quick, convenient testing is available for all Georgians,” Kemp explained.

Anyone in Ga can now be tested for COVID-19 either through their local health departments or by downloading the Augusta University ExpressCare app, visit augustahealth.org, or call (706) 721-1852.

“With nearly 250 staff in the field today, the Department of Public Health is making progress. Under the leadership of Dr. Toomey, DPH plans to have 1,000 staff deployed in the coming weeks. To streamline contact tracing across the state, we are rolling out a new online monitoring tool – the Healthy Georgia Collaborative – which allows Georgians to identify contacts and monitor symptoms. Health data remains completely confidential. This monitoring tool does not collect any data other than what is entered by the contact. This is how the process works: residents who test positive for COVID-19 will be contacted by trained public health staff, who will work with that individual to recall anyone that they might’ve had close contact with while infectious. Those contacts will then be interviewed by DPH to help us map and isolate the spread of COVID-19 in communities across the state. If you are contacted by DPH staff, we strongly encourage you to participate in the contact tracing program,” Kemp said about contact tracing.

The governor also urged anyone who needs to visit their doctor for regular appointments or concerns outside of COVID-19 to please do so. Doctors’ offices and emergency rooms have protocols in place to prevent individuals from contracting the virus. Now is not a time to gamble with anyone’s health to avoid COVID-19.

Posted by Governor Brian Kemp on Tuesday, May 12, 2020

COVID-19 testing available to all Georgians

Health, Press Release
testing

Atlanta – The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has reached its goal of testing 100,000 individuals in 10 days. More than 108,000 tests were processed since Commissioner Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H, set the DPH goal last week.

“This is an important benchmark for Georgia as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the state,” said Toomey. “Increased testing is critical to understanding where there are hotspots of infection and how best to mitigate them.”

Effective immediately, testing is available to all Georgians who request it, whether they have symptoms or not. There are more than 65 specimen point of collection sites (SPOC) throughout the state, with an additional 30 mobile SPOCs –  locations and hours vary daily.

Individuals wanting to be tested can contact any Georgia public health department to schedule an appointment at a SPOC location convenient to them. Contact information for local health departments can be found on the DPH homepage at

https://dph.georgia.gov/.

For more information about COVID-19 visit https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.

For updates on the COVID-19 situation as it develops, follow @GaDPH, @GeorgiaEMA, and @GovKemp on Twitter, and @GaDPH, @GEMA.OHS, and @GovKemp on Facebook.

Commissioners discuss limiting 2020 spending

Board of Commissioners, News
increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Earl Johnson, and Post Two Glenn Patterson were in total agreement about suspending non-critical capital improvement projects for the foreseeable future.

“We know the cost potentially is going to go up potentially for what we have to deal with and most certainly revenue coming in. Our LOST and SPLOST can be impacted,” stated Helton. “For non-critical capital improvement projects, I would recommend that we suspend those until we have a better idea for the next two to three months when we start getting better information on what’s happening with our revenue and how that’s going to impact our budget.”

These projects wouldn’t be canceled just tabled until Fannin County can make an accurate estimate about costs and revenue for the future. Until COVID-19 hit the United States, the county experienced continual growth in LOST and SPLOST collections.

Gov. Kemp extended his shelter in place for medically fragile and senior citizens as well as extended Georgia’s Public Health Emergency until June 12. These actions will also affect county revenue as many individuals are still confirmed to their homes. However, short-term rentals can now book guests. The ban expired on Friday and due to Kemp’s executive order, counties can’t enact legislation to strengthen or lessen the gov’s actions.

“Yes, with all the uncertainty, we just don’t know what is going to happen in the future,” affirmed Patterson. “We do not need to put any more undue stress on the citizens and the system. I think it would be a wise move at this time.”

“I believe we do not need to spend a single dollar that is not necessary at this point,” Johnson stated. “I don’t think we need to spend any money at all that is not necessary. I think it’s a good idea, and I think it’s absolutely critical that we move in that direction right now.”

Helton added that the issues can be addressed one at a time. Before the next commission meeting on May 12, department heads are asked to inform them of any critical spending needs. If an essential project is identified, the commissioners will address it at the May 12 meeting.

“Hopefully when all this nears an end, we can get a better handle on it, but as we move forward just watch every penny that we have,” Johnson said.

As far as 2020 revenue thus far, the first quarter did continue to see overall growth.

SPLOST and LOST collections were up by 10 percent in the first quarter, but with the statewide shutdown and short-term rental ban, the second quarter most likely won’t experience a similar financial boom.

Overall, Fannin was operating four percent under budget from January to March. The total budget for 2020 is $28,563,575, and through March, departments should be 25 percent into their budgets. Some areas were over such as risk management at 27 percent. It includes health insurance, an area that continues to eat up everyone’s budgets as healthcare costs continue to rise.

The courthouse debt payment is also made during the first quarter. The budget expenditure is $1,120,000. The county paid half of the amount already. The second will be made later in the year.

“After this year, that would leave us at $1.1M on the debt of this courthouse, which has been a debt that has been out there for 16 to 17 years. It’ll be a great moment in the county when we get that long-term debt off our financials,” Helton affirmed.

A few other departments were over 25 percent. The fire department made its one-time lease payment for $61,000. EMS turned in extra overtime wages to the amount of $21,000. The detention center was over by one percent, or $14,000, because of pre-bought uniforms and wages, according to Helton. These overages should flatten out as the year progresses.

Johnson reminded department heads to be “very conservative as we possibly can at this moment to make sure that as we creep our way out of this that we can mitigate as much as we can the losses incurred throughout all taxes.”

Fannin County Recreation Center reopens by appointment

Community, Health
recreation center

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – As Georgia continues to “get back to normal,” residents of Fannin County now have the option to book a visit to the recreation center.

On Monday, May 4, the recreation center opened to the public with several new provisions in place to ensure the safety of all patrons. For now, visitors must have an appointment/reservation for a one-hour time slot at the gym. One individual can only make up to three appointments per week. The times available are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays.

According to Recreation Department Director Eddie O’Neal, only 38 people will be in the whole facility at one time.

Check-in will be conducted outside the front of the recreation center where people will be asked screener questions about COVID-19, proof of residency – Fannin and Polk county citizens only, and temperature check. The front desk person will keep track of each visitor’s time. Hand sanitizer is also available at the desk. People need to maintain social distancing of six feet or more.

Those who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms or have a temperature will be turned away from the facility.

Water and vending machines are closed. Guests can wear masks and gloves if they choose to, but the items will not be provided.

“We want to do it by appointment so that people aren’t just showing up, and we have to turn them away,” explained O’Neal in the April Board of Commissioners meeting.

The inside track only allows 10 walkers/runners/joggers at a time, but the outside track doesn’t require an appointment. Yoga has moved outside and held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:00 am. Playgrounds are still closed. Silver Sneakers is still canceled.

Fannin County Park, Horseshoe Bend Park, Tammen Park will remain open to walk or ride bicycles every day of the week.

“I think it’s a very thorough plan and a good way for some of our citizens to get out and resume some recreational activities,” said Post One Earl Johnson.

Chairman Stan Helton added, “I want to commend Eddie and his staff. We certainly have some folks that are at risk when they go back out there. It’s a very carefully crafted plan. I think it’s just the right amount of how to open the facility up. We will continue to monitor what is happening in our county with COVID-19.”

See Pickleball and Basketball requirements below:

Pickleball:

  • 3 Pickleball courts will be available for reservations. A 1-hour time limit per court and group. Only 4 people allowed per pickleball court. NO spectators allowed.
  • Must bring your own equipment. (paddles & balls, water)
  • You may only play 3 times per week.
  • No Open play.

Basketball:

  • Must have reserved a time slot prior to entering.
  • Maximum of 4 people per ½ court will be allowed to ensure social distancing. This number includes spectators.
  • NO games, scrimmages, or physical contact allowed.
  • Must bring your own basketballs and water.
  • You may only play 3 times a week.

The following will remain closed at the parks until further notice.

  • Pavilion rentals or use
  • Playground use
  • Organized sports

Baseball Fields

Call 706-946-1130 to reserve a time. Pickleball and basketball players must bring their own equipment.

Shelter in Place order extended for medically fragile until June 12

Press Release, State & National
shelter in place

ATLANTA, Ga – Governor Brian P. Kemp signed Executive Order 4.30.20.01 which extends the medically fragile shelter in place and the Public Health State of Emergency until June 12.

The entire statement from the governor is below:

“Tonight at 11:59 PM, the statewide shelter in place order for most Georgians will expire. However, moving forward, I am urging Georgians to continue to stay home whenever possible. I want to thank the people of our great state who heeded public health advice, afforded us time to bolster our healthcare infrastructure, and flattened the curve. We were successful in these efforts, but the fight is far from over.

“In accordance with our executive orders, businesses across the Peach State must continue to operate with strict social distancing and sanitation rules to keep customers and employees safe through May 13, 2020. Those rules vary by business type for a measured, health-driven approach.

“The health and well-being of Georgians are my top priorities, and my decisions are based on data and advice from health officials. I will do what is necessary to protect the lives – and livelihoods – of our people. I will formally extend our public health state of emergency through June 12, 2020, to continue enhanced testing across Georgia, ramp up contact tracing, and maintain effective emergency response operations in every region.

“To protect vulnerable populations, I will sign an order today requiring medically fragile and elderly Georgians to continue to shelter in place through June 12, 2020. In addition, I will order long-term care facilities – including nursing homes, personal care homes, assisted living facilities, and similar community living homes – to utilize enhanced infection control protocols, ensure safer living conditions, and protect residents and staff from coronavirus exposure.

“Together, we will defeat this virus and emerge stronger. Thank you, and God Bless.”

Click here to view a video message from the Governor.

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