Towns Elementary School is closed to in-person due to outbreak

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Towns Schools outbreak

HIAWASSEE, Ga: Towns County Elementary is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak with ten positive staff members and six positive students. The building is closed for the week with students moving online.

In an online statement, Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong explained that the virus is rapidly moving through the elementary school staff.

“This is not passing currently through our students, and it wasn’t passing through our students last year as well. The majority of these students are isolated cases. They are not attached to one another. The staff members obviously are attached to one another, not all ten. These are three or four isolated events where one staff member passed it to the next,” Berrong stated.  

Towns County Elementary is virtual this week for thorough cleaning of the building and to stop any future spread. The 2021-2022 school year began for students on August 4.

Towns County School Superintendent Dr. Darren Berrong

The option for virtual learning is available due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in the area. Parents and guardians have until Wednesday, August 18, to sign their child up for online learning for the entire semester. The virtual learning option will start on Monday, August 23. The curriculum for online education will be through Calvert learning for elementary, Edgenuity for middle, and Gradpoint for the high school.

“You need to look closely if you had a child online last year whether or not they were successful and whether that is the right choice for them,” Berrong added.

All parents are encouraged to research the curriculum to inform their decision.

They will reassess the need for online learning before the second semester begins. Berrong hopes the Delta Variant spikes quickly and cases drop just as quickly. However, they will continue to monitor the situation.

Towns County Middle School and Towns County High School each have one positive student at this time. Classes are still in person for the week at the middle and high schools. 

The FDA and CDC approved the COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 and older. The vaccine trials are still ongoing for younger children.

New COVID-19 policies are in place. Masks are again encouraged to wear a face-covering to school. Face coverings aren’t mandated. Berrong explained he would be wearing a mask. No visitors will be allowed at Towns County Schools.

Positive cases must quarantine for ten days, and after the ten days with no symptoms for 24 hours with no fever-reducing medicine, they may return to school.

If a student is in close contact with a positive case, they will quarantine for seven calendar days and can return on day eight.

Students who had close contact with a positive case but wore a face covering may continue to attend in-person class while wearing a mask.

“It’s not because we’re seeing the transmission between students, and if it is transmitting, the students are not getting sick, but they very well could be transmitting to the adults,” Berrong added.

Local hospitals are reporting full ICUs and seeing more patients with confirmed COVID-19 cases or with COVID-like symptoms. Union General Hospital stated that 90 percent of the hospitalized cases are unvaccinated.

Some of the Towns County Elementary staff were vaccinated and still experienced breakthrough cases. Currently, none of the elementary team are hospitalized with COVID-19.

In Towns County, the Department of Public Health reports that 45 percent are fully vaccinated, and 49 percent have received at least one dose.

Over the last two weeks, Towns County confirmed 23 new cases over three days. It’s a significant increase from the previous lows maintained in the area.

Still, Towns transmission is seemingly lower than counties with lower vaccination rates. Fannin County’s only 35 percent fully vaccinated, and it reported 89 new cases over two weeks. The numbers are likely to continue to grow.

Fannin experiencing “significant increase” in COVID-19 cases

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COVID-19 cases

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Georgia’s currently ninth in the nation for rising COVID-19 cases and Fannin’s verified 89 new cases as of August 10 over two weeks.

In the previous 14-day report the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) recorded 59 cases in Fannin County. On July 26, only 48 cases were documented over 14 days. If the trend continues, it’s likely August numbers will double from July.

Fannin Regional Hospital has seen a “significant increase” in COVID-19 cases.

“The number of tests that are coming back positive are now exceeding the number of positive tests from last winter,” EMA Director Robert Graham commented on the hospital’s case rates.

Additionally, Fannin Regional is finding more cases in younger individuals, but they appear to be milder.

Local area hospitals’ ICUs are full, and some patients are being kept in the ER for treatment. Statewide hospitals are reaching similar breaking points and transferring patients to other facilities.

Only 34 percent of Fannin County is fully vaccinated which is lower than neighboring counties.

“The sampling of tests statewide and its appearing that the majority of the cases, somewhere in the 80 percent range, they’re seeing the sampling is the Delta Variant,” Graham stated. “There’s also a Lambda Variant that’s starting to show up too. and they’re saying it’s even more contagious than the Delta Variant.”

The Delta Variant has proven to be more contagious than previous iterations of COVID-19. Some data on variant suggests more severe illness can result from infection than the original strain.  According to the CDC, vaccinated individuals who experience a symptomatic breakthrough can transmit the virus to others. At this time, it’s unclear if an asymptomatic breakthrough can transmit it to others. Vaccinated people do appear to be infectious for a shorter amount of time.

Graham recommends people use common sense, follow the CDC guidelines, and when in stores or close contact with a group of people, wear a mask.

“They do say the vaccines are fairly effective against the variants, but they are seeing some breakthrough cases of people that actually get COVID that have had the vaccine. One group reported the vaccine is creating a better antibody than someone had actually had COVID,” Graham said.

Some breakthrough infections of COVID-19 are occurring among the vaccinated, but it’s a small portion. According to DPH, of the 4 million fully vaccinated, 0.12 percent have tested positive and 0.00058 percent have died.

Post One Johnny Scearce, who suffered from a lengthy battle with COVID-19 and related illness, confirmed that the vaccine has helped him.

“I would definitely recommend if somebody doesn’t have any other objections to it, definitely get the vaccine,” Graham commented.

Vaccine boosters are in the process, but no definitive word on the necessity of booster shots has come from the CDC, DPH, of NIH.

DPH is working on setting up a testing site closer to North Georgia again, most likely in Gilmer County.

“I think we all know somebody who has been affected by it,” Chairman Jamie Hensley added. “We know it’s a sickness, how bad it can be. We just have to work diligently.”

The courthouse is being regularly fogged to try and kill the virus. Also, all door handles and frequently touched surfaces are being sanitized throughout the day in all departments.

The recreation department will shut down the recreation center on Wednesdays to deep clean. It will open at 3 p.m.

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