Update On Opening Fannin’s Schools

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) has released more details about reopening plans for students opting to attend in-person schooling during the 2020-21 school year.

Assistant Superintendent of Achievement and Governance, Sarah Rigdon, updated the Board of Education (BOE) on the latest decisions to reopen Fannin County’s Schools in August.

“We are revising our plans somewhat,” Rigdon said of the ever changing guidelines related to Covid-19, “because we want to also be good stewards and good partners with our governor in trying to keep everyone in Georgia safe and healthy.”

Rigdon referenced Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s “Four for Four” plan, where Kemp is urging Georgians to follow these four guidelines for four weeks:

  • Wear a mask when out in public or when you cannot keep distance inside.
  • Practice physical distancing – six feet from those you don’t live with.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds several times throughout the day with soap and warm water.
  • Follow the executive order and heed the guidance provided by public health officials.

According to Kemp, if Georgians commit to these four things, “we can make incredible progress in the fight against Covid-19”.

With the “Four for Four” plan in mind, the school system has outlined a few new procedures for school students this year.

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Rigdon updates the board on school reopening plans.

Rigdon gave an update for students who will be riding school buses this year. The plan for buses was previously still in the works when the initial reopening update was given at the BOE’s July 9th meeting.

After consulting with medical professionals, school and district leaders, the FCSS has decided that masks will be required for all students riding buses. 

Disposable masks will be available to students riding buses as well as hand sanitizer to be used before boarding the bus.

“That is a requirement, not an encouragement or suggestion,” Rigdon emphasized of the decision for riders to be required to wear a mask.

Social distancing is just not possible for students on buses and Rigdon stated of preventing person-to-person spread of Covid-19, “The best defense against that is going to be masking up.” 

Students may also receive assigned seating on buses.

FCSS is still not making masks a requirement for students and staff inside school buildings, but are highly encouraging the mask wearing practice.

The district received a donation of cloth masks from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) and will offer all students who are attending face-to-face school one of  these masks.

For parents, guardians and visitors to any of the school campuses, a mask or face covering will be required along with a symptom check before entering any buildings.

Employees of the FCSS will participate in Covid-19 related training. The training will consist of guidance about “best practices and instances when face coverings will be required”.

This specific situational guidance and training will be reviewed by the Department of Public Health.

Lastly, school specific plans for safely reopening are still being worked out among the individual schools. Staff will be given this information before returning on August 3 and parents/guardians will be given this information prior to August 7.

“The guidance is constantly updated,” Rigdon spoke about the individual schools’ finalizing plans and that these plans could still change as the district receives new information.

 

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Fannin County School System

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

What does it cost to clean a courthouse?

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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

Financial impact of courthouse cleaning, new COVID-19 protocols

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BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After experiencing a COVID-19 exposure, the entire Fannin County Courthouse closed for deep-cleaning and sanitization. Due to the unexpected health hazard, the county approved a $70,059 emergency expenditure to pay American Property Restoration for its service.

Chairman Stan Helton stated that he is continuing to try a negotiate the price down, and the $70,059 would be the maximum price. However, the state of Georgia also released CARES act funds to smaller counties for COVID-19-related expenses. These funds should cover the cleaning cost.

According to a letter of guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their share of the 30% of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.” A local government has to provide supporting documentation for qualified expenditures.

American Property Restoration in action. Image courtesy of the company.

22 people in hazmat suits cleaned the courthouse using foggers, fans, and sanitizer. The fans circulated sanitizer throughout the ventilation system to disinfect every inch of the courthouse.

“We have to be careful in the future. No one should feel at fault if they actually brought this in. It’s an invisible enemy,” said Helton.

Helton admitted that he underestimated the square footage of the courthouse at 69,752 sq. ft. He initially estimated cost would be between $50K and $60K. American Property Restoration charged full price for 30,000 sq. ft. and half-price for the remaining 39,752 sq. ft. However, he asked them to continue looking for rate discounts.

“It’s a huge cost, but the good thing is there are funds set aside for us to help recoup. I honestly believe something had to be done because the alternative is more cases break out. It would be said that no one did anything. I’m glad all the employers and taxpayers that come in are safe yesterday and today from any lingering infection,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Since the exposure was an emergency, the county didn’t have time to take bids on the cleaning process.

Courthouse Protocols 

The Board of Commissioners office instated a mask mandate for its employees and asked them to minimize visiting other departments. Marks will be required when visiting other county departments or in the hallways. The Board of commissioners also encouraged other elected offices to start the same or similar policy.

Board of Commissioners employees must wear masks inside the courthouse. Visitors will receive temperature checks.

All courthouse employees and visitors must enter through the front of the building to have their temperature checked. If an employee runs a temperature, then they will be asked to get a COVID-19 test and can’t return until they receive a negative result. The security area will also provide hand sanitizer to visitors and employees. 

As for the public, the commissioners can’t mandate masks inside the courthouse.

“We may be able department by department to department to ask the employees to make masks mandatory in their work areas. We can’t legally demand that the public do that. We can ask them, urge, plead. We can strongly recommend that they wear a mask, but we can’t prevent someone from coming in here without a mask,” explained Helton.

However, in offices, not inside the courthouse, like the 911 call center, all visitors must wear masks.

“We need to recognize this thing is still around. We need to follow through and be diligent. Don’t let your guard down, don’t get lax and do these things,” said Post Two Glenn Patterson about following guidelines.

Johnson echoed that everyone needs to be as careful as possible, but still live their life. With numerous out of towners in Fannin, it’s impossible to prevent people from catching the virus. “Be as smart and careful as you can possibly be,” stated Johnson.

As for potential future exposures, county attorney Lynn Doss suggested following the GaDOE and DPH outline. If someone tested positive and they wore a mask, socially distanced, and not in contact with others for more than 15 minutes, then the immediate area would be closed and sanitized.

Read more about the COVID-19 exposures in Gilmer and Fannin Courthouses here.

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
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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. 

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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.

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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

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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.

 

DPH urges Georgians to “answer the call” for contact tracing

Health, News, Press Release
answer the call

Atlanta – The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is releasing a new video explaining the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, asking residents to ‘answer the call’ if DPH reaches out.

YouTube Video Link: How Contact Tracing Works in Georgia: https://youtu.be/8LANQADjaEY

This video is part of a larger campaign rolling out across the state promoting the Healthy Georgia Collaborative, DPH’s expanded contact tracing program to combat the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing is an important public health tool used to monitor the spread of infection and identify outbreaks of COVID-19 before they become widespread community transmission.

Since May, the Healthy Georgia Collaborative has deployed about 1,300 contact tracers and case investigators statewide to interview individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, and then alert, quarantine and test contacts who may have been exposed. To date, 16,590 cases have been interviewed and 40,082 contacts identified.

“For contact tracing to be successful, education is critical,” said DPH Commissioner Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H. “We need residents to understand what contact tracing is, why it’s important, and how they can participate in helping Georgia stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Beyond explaining the contact tracing process, DPH’s new video also urges residents to “Answer the Call!” When contacts of COVID-19 cases are identified, the first and fastest way that DPH can notify them of their exposure is by calling. “If you don’t pick up the phone,” explains Dr. Toomey, “Then we can’t alert you and get you the support you need. This puts yourself and others at risk of getting sick.”

To encourage participation and reduce scams, when DPH calls, the caller ID will say, “GA COVID Team.” Contact tracers will provide resources and information on testing, symptom monitoring and protection for family members. Any information provided to DPH staff members is kept confidential per HIPAA, which is the law that protects an individual’s personal health information. Georgia’s contact tracing program does not use GPS or Bluetooth technology to track movements of residents.

BOE looks to reopen schools in August

Board of Education, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County School System (FCSS) is moving forward with plans to reopen the district in August.

“Our goal remains to have school in August,” FCSS Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney spoke at the recent Board of Education meeting, adding, “Now, it’s impossible to say right now exactly how school will look in August, as so much will depend on the health of our community at that time.”

Gwatney, along with district personnel and the Board of Education, are looking to find a balance for the upcoming year, weighing both the needs of the students and the needs of the community.

The Georgia Department of Education released guidelines on Monday, June 1, 2020 for districts moving forward. This advisement breaks up reopening recommendations into three categories:

  • Low/No Spread (of Covid-19)
  • Minimal/Moderate Spread
  • Substantial Spread

Each category has specific guidelines and recommendations for operating a school system based on the health of the community, and can range from traditional operation (in person) to hybrid operation (alternating schedules) to distance/remote learning.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, School, 2020, 2021, Covid-19, Superintendent, Michael Gwatney, Board of Education, Lewis Deweese, Sarah Rigdon, Heather Finley, Planning, Georgia Department of Education, Survey

The beginning guidelines from the GaDOE defining the categories to consider when reopening schools.

You can read the guidelines released by the Georgia Department of Education by clicking here : Georgia’s K-12 Restart and Recovery

“The great thing that I love about the plan is that it is actually giving communities back control of how their schools function,” FCSS Assistant Superintendent Sarah Rigdon said of the new recommendations.

While the district is preparing and hopeful to have children back in the classroom this fall, they are also preparing for a worst case scenario, where distance/remote learning is the only option once again.

FCSS Director of Instructional Technology, Heather Finley, gave the public a brief overview of how the statewide closure was handled in March of this year. 

During the past nine weeks, 68,000 meals were still served to students, over 700 Google Classrooms were created, approximately 900 virtual meetings and classrooms were attended, WiFi Hotspots were provided to families throughout the county, and those with special needs were still provided services.

“If we can do this in 3 days,” Finely said of the district’s quick response to the pandemic crisis in March, “we can plan for August and figure it out.”

The school system is sending out a survey to parents, guardians, facility, and staff regarding their feelings on moving forward with the 2020-2021 school year. This survey will be based on the low to moderate guidelines recommended by the State.

“This has been a very polarizing issue, and so it should be interesting once we get some of this data back to how the community feels,” Rigdon said of the survey.

The hope of conducting the survey is to get genuine feedback from those with an invested interest in the operations of the school district on a variety of topics that will need to be addressed before moving forward.

An example of such a topic was given as to whether or not children should be required to wear masks in school. 

The school system has also been seeking guidance from a wide variety of professionals in the medical, legal, economic and emergency management fields. 

Rigdon will share the findings from the survey at the July Board of Education meeting so that plans can be made for the reopening of Fannin County schools in August.

“We are excited that we are going to be able to go back to local control. It’s our kids and our community,” Rigdon stated and added, “Educators have missed their kids.”

Board member Lewis Deweese shared his feelings on how every obstacle has been met so far by the Fannin County School System: “The demonstration of love and the compassion that our teachers have for students, it goes above and beyond the call of duty by far.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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.

Free COVID-19 Testing in North GA Memorial Day Weekend

Health, Lifestyle

$873,000 projected loss in revenue for City of Blue Ridge

Community, News
Fannin County, City, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Financial, Shortfall, Lost Revenue, Mayor, Council, Donna Whitener, Mike Panter, Department Head, Finance Director, Utility Director, Alicia Stewart, Rebecca Harkins, Covid-19, Funding, Water, Sewer

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The City of Blue Ridge is facing a substantial projected loss of revenue amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Department Heads gave updates during the April 2020 Blue Ridge City Council meeting and a theme among these updates was loss of revenue due to many businesses having to close for the month of April.

Finance Director Alicia Stewart informed the Council and Mayor of the city’s projected shortfalls.

“The biggest concern is LOST(Local Option Sales Tax ),” Stewart said, explaining lost revenue to the general fund. 

Current projections show a loss of approximately $192,000 in this area. This is a decrease of 22 percent. Stewart also pointed out that Hotel/Motel revenues are projected to have a loss of $37,000 or 21 percent and a loss of $56,000 in SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) or 14%.

“As we see what the revenue actually is we would have to adjust the projects,” Stewart said of the projects funded by SPLOST dollars.

All projections were based on limited data from one month.

The water fund is projecting a loss of $405,000.

Despite there being no lag in the utility department and the city still processing the same amount of transactions, overall water consumption has been down during the statewide Shelter In Place.

“We sold 8.6 million gallons less water over a 2 month period,” Utility Director Rebecca Harkins said of the dramatic decrease, pointing to businesses, hotels and schools being closed as a reason for less usage.

This decrease in demand leads the department to a $124,000 shortfall, which can be mostly negated (short $6,000) if demand were to rise back to pre-pandemic levels and staffing remain the same.

Mayor Donna Whitener shared that the city would currently receive no help from the United States Department of Agriculture, “I’ve asked for deferments on some of our payments like our water plant and our sewer plant which are two of our biggest payments. USDA, at this point, is not doing any deferment.”

Council-member Mike Panter asked Stewart directly, “What’s your projection of our total shortfall for the year?” 

Stewart replied that including all funds the city is projected to have $873,000 in lost revenues.

To combat these losses, Stewart and Harkins said that payroll is an area to consider, which the city has already begun with temporary layoffs and reduced hours for employees.

Stewart also says that delaying capital outlay and spending only what is necessary are steps the city should take for the foreseeable future.

“There is reserves, cash reserves,” Stewart also explained of overcoming the city’s revenue shortfall. Policy according to Stewart is to have 25 percent of budget in reserves. This translates into $700,000 in city reserves and an additional $945,000 in the water fund.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will also be reimbursing state and local government entities for spending directly related to Covid-19.

The City of Blue Ridge hopes to be reimbursed $26,000 for materials purchased such as hand sanitizer and laptops for telework The city is also seeking reimbursement for legal expenses related to Covid-19 and hazard pay for city police.

Like many other government entities, the City of Blue Ridge is awaiting financial reports for May and June to see if the economy will have a swift recovery.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

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

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