Public safety hazard pay motion dies on the table

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hazard pay

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After a heated discussion concerning hazard pay for first responders, sheriff’s office, and EMS, the motion to approve $500 in funds failed to receive a vote.

Chairman Stan Helton didn’t accept the motion made by Post One Earl Johnson. The Chairman preferred to wait until a new board took office and let them handle the hazard pay matter.

“Nobody was going to be completely happy…and you’re this close to the end of the year. If someone gets bonus pay now, in a few months, they’ll have to pay taxes on it. After the first of the year, you’ll have a new board, you can sit down…Nobody is disputing the danger and dedication to this stuff,” Helton stated. “I’m through with the hazard pay thing.”

Previously, the Fannin Board of Commissioners had tabled the issue until more information became available or until the new administration took office in January 2021. In a last-minute move, Post Two Glenn Patterson asked for hazard pay and the White Path building to be included in the November meeting.

“They run toward the COVID while we try to stay away from it as much as they can, but when they took that job, they didn’t realize all the extra danger,” Patterson said. “I can’t believe we can’t find an extra $100 a month to give to these guys and ladies.”

Post One Earl Johnson expressed that he wasn’t for or against hazard pay and how he knew it would be a can-of-worms when first discussed months earlier. He wanted to know what the county could do legally before passing a measure.

“I asked Mrs. Doss what we can legally get,” Johnson said, “I don’t want people to misconstrue the fact and think that I don’t want people to get hazard pay. I wanted to find out what we can do legally.”

County Attorney Lynn Doss said, “There are certain categories that we know can be paid, which are first responders, the people that fall under sheriff’s office and emergency management services.”

She felt comfortable with offering hazard pay to that group of people.

County Attorney Lynn Doss

“The only decision I’m going to make is one that she feels confident is not going to come back in the future,” Johnson added. He wanted to ensure that the state doesn’t deny the county’s expense.

These individuals can receive hazard pay for their service during COVID-19, and Fannin County can apply to be reimbursed for this expense through the CARES Act. Department heads and elected officials are not eligible.

The earlier amount discussed for the public safety employees was $500 in hazard pay.

“I’m fine with the $500, and I’m fine with paying it to whoever we can legally pay with no future ramifications to this board,” Johnson stated.

Patterson then put the ball in Johnson’s court, saying he would second the motion if Johnson put it forth. Patterson was the commissioner who wanted to discuss the topic. However, Helton never asked for a motion.

“My concern on this hazard pay thing…is I don’t think you’re going to do anything other than create dissension with people. However, if you two gentlemen feel that we need to do $500 for whatever group that you want to make a motion,” Helton asserted. “It’s not an issue of what disserve is, but I feel at this point, I don’t want to make any decisions that don’t have to be made right now. I’m not going to do anything that hurts the new administration.”

Fannin received $1.3 million in CARES Act Funding. According to CFO Robin Gazaway, if the county included hazard pay and the other COVID-19 expenses, it would leave approximately $600,000.

Around 100 people would receive the intended hazard pay.

At a previous meeting, EMA Director Robert Graham and Fire Chief Larry Thomas presented a breakdown of the amount of hazard pay per call for volunteers. The county could choose to include or exclude volunteers.

After another five minutes of discussion, Patterson backed down from making a motion, but Johnson decided to go ahead with the measure.

“I make a motion that we pay $500 to every first responder that the county attorney Lynn Doss outlines are eligible to receive it,” Johnson said.

“With the numbers that have been thrown out here, the kind of expense that is, no. The only motion I want to ask for is one to adjourn this meeting,” Helton finalized

According to the document on the ACCG website, published on August 17, 2020, hazard pay is 100 percent reimbursable for public health and public safety employees. However, hazard pay can’t be retroactively awarded. Therefore, if a county paid a few months of hazardous duty pay to public safety and then discontinued it because of lack of funds or never paid hazardous duty pay because of lack of funds, they can’t retroactively pay it for part or all of the time period.

The document also outlines that “Treasury guidance allows state and local governments to presume that 100 percent of public safety payroll costs are dedicated to COVID-19 response during the eligible spending period to streamline the administrative burden of accounting for expenses.”

Public safety employees include EMS, first responders, firefighters, or locally paid emergency medical personnel.

As for detention center or jailers, ACCG lists: “Yes, Treasury guidance provides that jail and detention center staff performing a substantially different role due to social distancing enforcement or additional sanitizing requirements would be eligible for CRF funding.”

County employees not eligible are administrative staff unless job duties are substantially different. Teleworking isn’t a reimbursable expense.

All Special Events Canceled for City of Blue Ridge

City Council, Community, Downtown Blue Ridge, Festivals, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – In an unanimous vote the Blue Ridge City Council decided that any special events within the city limits will be canceled until further notice. This includes the cancelation of Blue Ridge’s Halloween SafeZone and Light Up Blue Ridge.

Discussion of canceling future events for the remainder of the year had previously taken place among council but no official vote had been made on the matter.

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Blue Ridge Halloween SafeZone 2019

“We need to make it official,” Council member Rhonda Haight spoke, referencing that since their previous discussion special events had been permitted to take place: “I felt like we should have voted last time.”

Mayor Donna Whitener expressed that she didn’t fully agree with the idea of canceling all events with no exceptions and pointed out that the recent prayer vigil held for Blue Ridge Chief of Police Johnny Scearce would technically fall under the special event category.

Haight made the motion of  “no more events allowed until further notice”, which carried without opposition.

Although the Halloween SafeZone has been canceled an alternative has been set up according to Cesar Martinez, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA).

“We get 5,000 or 6,000 people downtown and we just can’t do it this year,” Martinez said and noted that state guidelines would just not make it feasible for the city to accommodate.

The BRBA will be partnering with Blue Ridge United Methodist Church to offer a drive thru option for families to enjoy. Booths will be set up along this route, where participants can hand out candy.

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Lighting of the Tree – Photo courtesy of Light Up Blue Ridge Facebook Page

Other locations that are offering Halloween festivities include Dairy Queen, Home Depot, and Kevin Panter Insurance Agency.

Light Up Blue Ridge will also not take place in an official manner. Festivities of the weekend that draw a large crowd in close proximity have been called off. This includes the annual parade and the lighting of the tree.

Even with these changes, Blue Ridge plans to make the city Christmas ready for those visiting the weekend following Thanksgiving. 

The tree will be lit in the park but without the lighting ceremony and Santa can still be found at the park’s gazebo but with safety precautions made due to the ongoing Covid-19 risk.

“We are suggesting that the city close East Main Street for the two days after Thanksgiving,” Martinez recommended to the council stating that this would give more room for the large crowds to social distance that weekend.

No official plans were made on how to handle the influx of visitors for the weekend following Thanksgiving, but discussions are expected to continue in future meetings.

Ask The Doc! Fighting Off Covid-19

Community, Lifestyle
Ask The Doc! Recovery Process Of Covid-19

This morning, The doctors address a comment left on one of the Ask The Doc Segments. What drugs are good for fighting off Covid-19 or do we just wait on a vaccine? The Doctors also address the President and first lady testing positive for Covid-19. What do the Doctors have to say about testing positive with no symptoms? When could he have contracted the virus? How long has he had it? All this and more on Ask The Doc!

 

Ask The Doc! College And Covid-19

Lifestyle
Ask The Doc! Recovery Process Of Covid-19

This morning, the doctors discuss how colleges are dealing with Covid-19. When a Student tests positive, the colleges continue classes and give the infected student their own quarantined dorm. Is this the approach we should be taking with everything? Should we worry over the numbers? Hear Doctor Whaley and Doctor Tidman’s point of view on this right here on Ask the Doc!

 

City takes precautions against COVID-19 as police chief fights the virus

News
police chief

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – City continues to take preventative measures against COVID-19 as Police Chief and Post One Commissioner Candidate Johnny Scearce battles the virus from the hospital.

According to Mayor Donna Whitener, they have increased cleaning protocols and continue to be vigilant against COVID-19 with temperature checks, masks, and rotating office schedules.

Sources are saying that Scearce is currently in ICU and on a ventalilator. It’s a turn from yesterday when he was still in a regular room. The Scearce family asks for prayers of healing. Everyone at FYN is keeping Chief Scearce in our thoughts and prayers.

Anyone who encountered Scearce received notification and testing for the virus; only two came back positive. City hall and the police department previously instituted half-on/half-off scheduling to prevent the virus from infecting everyone at once. In the police department, Team A never interacts with Team B. The rotating schedule eliminates potential exposure, and officers don’t share materials or equipment. Also, they can perform most of their duties from their patrol cars.

However, Whitener stressed that the virus affects younger and healthy individuals, not just the older population. In Georgia, approximately 215,519 confirmed cases fall between the 18-59 age group, and 56,522 cases fall into the 60 to 80+ range. The mortality rate continues to affect the elderly predominately.

The 18 to 22 category continues to grow while children COVID-19 cases appear to be trending down.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can range from a headache and a loss of taste to an inability to breathe on one’s own. If anyone experiences the following symptoms, speak with a doctor to determine if a COVID-19 test is necessary.

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion
  • Inability to wake or stay awake
  • Bluish lips or face

The Georgie Department of Public Health has marked Fannin County with high transmission indicators. These indicators represent counties with a 14-day cases rate is greater than 100 cases per 100,000 residents, greater than 10 cases during this period, and 14-day average percent positive PCR tests greater than 10 percent with more than 20 tests performed during this period.

As of September 17, Fannin County has 570 total cases, 92 new cases in two weeks, 14.7 percent positive test rate over two weeks, and nine deaths.

The new case rate is down 11.3 percent across Georgia, and the positivity rate dropped to 7.7 percent.

Still, until a vaccine becomes available, everyone needs to practice precaution and wear a mask in public settings.

COVID-19 hazard pay tabled for frontline workers

News
hazard pay disaster planning

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Commissioners decided to indefinitely table CARES Act hazard pay until receiving more information from the state.

With several unanswered questions about eligibility and everchanging guidelines from the state, the board decided to hold on accepting COVID-19 hazard pay. The item can be brought up again by the new administration in January 2021 or if new information becomes available. There’s no deadline by which to spend the money.

Several other counties have begun accepting hazard funds, but no one appears to follow a standard aside from frontline public safety employees qualify. However, the guidelines continually change the meaning of public safety employees. As of September 8, the sheriff department, firefighters, 911, and EMS/EMA were listed as approved to receive hazard funds.

Volunteer firefighters could receive $10 per call, but that isn’t a finalized plan, just a proposal.

“What’s legal for us to pay?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.

County Attorney Lynn Doss confirmed that anyone under the EMS/EMA umbrella should qualify for hazard pay.

“I’m not going to make the final say on who gets what when they don’t work for me every day. I would like to feel very comfortable with recommendations from [department heads],” added Johnson.

No one wanted to release funds to employees that wouldn’t ultimately be reimbursable through the CARES Act.

Fannin County received notification in June about CARES Act funding, but it didn’t trickle down to smaller municipalities until later. Initially, they believed the CARES Act funds needed to be spent by September 1, but hazard pay didn’t fall under that deadline.

If local communities don’t follow the state’s guidelines, it is possible for the state to revoke those CARES Act funds.

County Attorney Doss will ask around the state to see the consensus about spending CARES Act hazard pay funds.

Post Two Glenn Patterson made a motion to table the issue until further clarification or knowledge of the deadline. Chairman Stan Helton seconded, and it was unanimously approved.

Canceling the game : Rebels vs. Bobcats

Community, News, Rebel's Corner
Fannin County, Georgia, Rebels, Gilmer County, Bobcats, Football, Cancelled, Covid, Covid-19, Georgia Department of Public Health, DPH, North Georgia Health District

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A call was made to cancel a very anticipated game last week between football rivals the  Fannin County Rebels and the Gilmer County Bobcats.

The decision was made over an individual’s possible exposure to and contraction of Covid-19.

Questions arose among Rebel fans and some parents reached out to FYN not satisfied with the explanation they had been given. All wanted to know what the Fannin County School District’s protocol is to make this decision and who ultimately decides. 

Documentation provided by the Fannin County School System confirms that an individual with ties to the football team had come in contact with at least 2 persons who recently tested positive for Covid-19. This documentation goes on to say that the individual in question is “symptomatic”.

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Fannin County School System’s latest Covid-19 update on Friday, Sept. 11.

Sources tell FYN that while the individual was tested for Covid-19, no confirmation was ever received as to whether the person had tested positive.

Fannin County Director of Applied & Integrated Instruction, Lucas Roof, explained that due to medical privacy laws students are not required to produce any documentation to the school system that they have been tested and received a positive result for Covid-19.

When direct documentation is unavailable, Roof explained that verification comes in one of two ways. Either contact from the school system is made to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) for confirmation on cases, or if DPH receives a case that they determine to be a possible student of Fannin County, they will contact the school system.

“It really is a two way street as far as communication,” Roof said of DPH and the school system’s relationship.

DPH also will treat cases as “considered positive” when indications lead to a strong likelihood of an individual having contracted the virus.

Due to medical privacy, the Fannin County School System could not confirm whether the individual relating to the football game had received a positive test result.

Assistant Superintendent of Personnel & Administration, Robert Ensley, explained that the school system, upon learning of the possibility of a positive case, contacted the local branch of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) to seek recommendations.

DPH and Roof discussed the situation facing the Fannin County Rebels and based on information received, DPH gave guidelines to the school district.

While Roof has been tasked with the Covid-19 coordination of the district, the cancellation of the game came down to a school level decision.

After receiving guidelines from DPH, Fannin County High School Principal, Assistant Principal, Athletic Director and Coach met to go over options and concluded that with DPH recommendations it was in the best interest to cancel.

Roof confirmed the DPH recommendations on Thursday, Sept. 10 after questions arose from parents concerning the decision.

Dr. Zachary Taylor, Director of the North Georgia Health District wrote an email to Roof stating:

“Lucas, this email is to let you know that we consider the young man who is symptomatic and is an epidemiological link to 2 cases to be a case of COVId-19 and that all of his contacts on the football team should be quarantined. Please contact me if you have any questions.”

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Confirmation received from DPH of guidelines relating to the athletics Covid-19 case.

The school system was also unable, due to privacy laws, to confirm with FYN if any players had to be quarantined after coming in contact with this particular case. Several parents of athletes, however, spoke with FYN and did confirm that their child had been sent home and would not be able to return to school until Thursday, Sept. 17.

Numbers on the school system’s website, updated every Friday morning, did show a significant rise in the number of students quarantined as of Sept. 11.

“These decisions are never made lightly,” Fannin County Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney stated and added, “Our team is making the best possible decisions based on the information we have and the recommendations we receive.”

Gwatney confirmed that the protocol that was followed concerning the Fannin-Gilmer game would be the same for any future school related events, not just limited to athletics. The school system will seek the advice of medical professionals and follow the recommendations given at the time.

Gwatney explained that guidelines given to the district are fluid as more becomes known about the virus, “Covid-19 is information ever evolving and we have to work with the latest details when situations arise. The well being of our students and our community as a whole is always a top priority.”

 

Featured Image : Fannin Rebels and Gilmer Bobcats face-off  in 2019.

DRIVE-THRU FLU SHOT CLINIC in Blue Ridge is Thursday, September 24th!

Community

Blue Ridge, GA – This year’s DRIVE-THRU FLU SHOT CLINIC,
conducted by Fannin County Health Department, is Thursday, September
24th from 9 am to 3 pm at the Farmers Market in Blue Ridge! It’s
especially important this year that you’re able to remain separately and
safely in your vehicle while driving through to get your flu shot from
public health staff wearing COVID-19 protective gear. The shot is no cost if
covered by one of several health plans. If paying out of pocket, the cost is still
relatively low at $25 for regular flu vaccine and $65 for high dose flu
vaccine for people aged 65 and older. Both vaccines guard against 4
different strains of flu. Cash, check, Medicare, Medicaid, Aetna Blue Cross
Blue Shield, Cigna, Coventry, Humana and United Healthcare Insurance
will be accepted. The Farmers Market is on East First Street in Blue Ridge.

Call (706) 632-3023 for more information and log onto bit.ly/Drive-
Thru_Beat-the-Flu.

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

What does it cost to clean a courthouse?

News
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.

Financial impact of courthouse cleaning, new COVID-19 protocols

News
cleaning

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.

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.

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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.”

Gilmer and Fannin Extend Judicial Emergency under order of Chief Judge

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order

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.

 

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