Gilmer Schools responding to COVID case increases

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Gilmer Schools have seen an explosion of positive COVID cases and quarantines throughout this week.” Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley read a statement during the Gilmer County Board of Education this week on Thursday night, August 19, 2021, during their Regular Scheduled meeting.

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley, COVID

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As of that meeting, the total cases in Gilmer’s school system surpassed a district wide 900 students in quarantine and 100 positive cases in students and staff.

That explosion also culminated in the cancellation of the season opening varsity football game against Pickens on Friday, August 20, 2021. The school system stated, “Decisions such as these are not taken lightly, and we must prioritize the safety and well being of all student-athletes and spectators for both teams.”

Dr. Ridley said in a letter to parents about COVID restrictions earlier this week that the school system would be mandating masks and face coverings starting on Monday, August 23, 2021. He stated, “I feel it is imperative that we act now in an effort to keep our students safe and our schools open.”

In efforts to notify and share the information well in advance, that letter was sent out. However, at the Thursday meeting, Dr. Ridley also informed citizens that while working with the Department of Health, new guidelines will be coming next week in implementation. He confirmed that he would be discussing these with the press on Monday to inform citizens more about those changes as the school looks to continue implementing DPH guidelines into the schools.

As of now, Monday will see masking on school buses only with strong encouragement to wear masks throughout the day. Dr. Ridley also urged others to consider using masks and getting vaccinated against the virus. During his statement in the meeting, Dr. Ridley stated, “Students and staff who are fully vaccinated or masked during exposure will not be subject to quarantine.”

Additionally, the Board of Education also approved COVID leave time for staff that have exposures and positive tests. Superintendent Ridley stated that the official numbers will be updated on their website tomorrow, August 20, 2021.

COVIDWith the announcement of new COVID guidelines made and implementation on the way, the school system is currently working on the “logistics of implementing this new guidance as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week.”

Gilmer is continuing with quarantining for 10 days and requirements to be fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medications with an improvement of symptoms.

Additionally, Dr. Ridley previously told FYN that virtual academy was not being implemented for the start of school, but Gilmer does have the option if the need arises. He did not mention virtual academy at the meeting.

As the Superintendent shares more information on the changing guidelines FYN will continue to share new articles with the updated information.

Gilmer returns to high transmission designation with COVID

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Gilmer, like most all of North Georgia, is seeing resurgence in the COVID-19 virus, whether from the original virus or some variant.

According to reports from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Gilmer saw 15 new cases yesterday alone. In the last two weeks, it has seen 61 new cases. Along with this, the Georgia DPH has once again put Gilmer on the High Transmission counties list.

High TransmissionAccording to documentation on the GDPH website, they classify High Transmission with the following criteria; “14-day cases rate is >100 cases/100,000 county residents (>5 cases during this period) AND 14-day average % positive PCR tests >10% (>20 total tests performed during this period).”

The Georgia DPH also reports that Gilmer has had 2,663 total cases as of August 9, 2021. Gilmer is among the vast majority of counties in Georgia with this classification, now, as only eight counties in the entire state still remain outside of that criteria. Last week, there were nearly 30 counties not classified as High Transmission.

Further breaking down their statistics, the Department reclassified the counties into three classifications of Green, Yellow, and Red based on their positivity rates in testing. Gilmer received a Yellow Classification. Yellow means “5-10% PCR positivity during previous 14 days.”

Gilmer has seen a 9.7% Positivity of the 432 tests performed in the last 14 days.

Along with the increasing numbers within the county, discussion is increasing at state and federal levels about pushing further with mandates than what has been previously seen.

On August 3, 2021, the North Georgia Health District published an article that stated, “In areas with substantial and high transmission, the CDC recommends that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.”

FYN has confirmed with some local public safety authorities in nearby counties that local discussions have already started for reinstating suggested preventative measures and restrictions in some areas.

Gilmer Schools have also been monitoring the numbers consistently as Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said they look at several reports from the daily numbers to specifically school age children from the Department of Health. Dr. Ridley noted that the schools are, again, working closely with the Department of Public Health as these numbers trend upward. From webinars to communicating with the local branch of the Georgia Department of Health, the system is continuing to stay connected with both medical experts and surrounding counties and their BOEs according the Ridley.

He also noted that some steps are already being taken as suggested mask usage and separation in the cafeteria are just some of the small steps they have taken so far. While he said that the virtual academy is available as a back-up, they have no immediate plans for usage as a response to the numbers. He also stated that mask usage is suggested to students. The school mandate was lifted towards the final few weeks on the last school year.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris has also commented saying he monitors the county’s numbers. With the county’s regular meetings starting tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m., there is no planned discussion nor any immediate response in how the meeting will be held.

Gilmer has seen a one day spike of 15 cases, but it barely compares to January as cases peaked on July 15, 2020, with 49 new cases. Both July 2020 and January 2021 say 7 day averages topping 15 to 20 new cases. Comparatively, August 9, 2021, saw a 7 day average of 6.9 cases.

The Department of Health has put the majority of counties into the High Transmission category while local boards are opting for caution and analyzation to see if this is simply a small spike, or a trend towards something more.

Authorities offer statement to warn of possible severe weather conditions

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – The National Weather Service (NWS), Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), and Gilmer County Public Safety are alerting citizens to a possible hazardous weather condition over the coming weekend.

According to the statement released, areas of North Georgia could see increased risks of Flooding “Saturday night through Tuesday.” Public Safety told FYN that they receive their information directly from and work closely with these agencies like GEMA in preparing and readying the local response.

Authorities over the North Georgia Region are currently looking for more information to better estimate the exact amount of rainfall. The current information predicts between 3 and 7 inches of rainfall but the NWS did say there remains a large amount of uncertainty regarding the rainfall totals.

The NWS stated, “The combination of a Gulf tropical low and a cold front will create a one-two punch for Georgia beginning late Saturday and continuing through Tuesday. There remains a good deal of model uncertainty with the timing and coverage of the heaviest precipitation and changes to the forecast rainfall totals can be expected with subsequent forecast packages.”

GEMA’s release was also shared by local Public Safety as they are attempting to give citizens information about the possibility. The release stated, “The highest amounts of 5 to 7 inches are expected over portions of north and northeast Georgia where the topography will enhance rainfall activity.”

Part of the reason for concern comes as the recent storms in the area have kept streamflow normal at most river gage locations. The heat and dryness could help soil absorb some rain, but “persistent heavy rainfall over an area will create runoff issues quickly, especially across urban areas and north Georgia’s complex terrain.”

With this advisory, authorities are suggesting that people consider the possibility and prepare by cleaning drainage systems on or around their homes and property. As Gilmer is heavily rural, quickly accumulating rainfall can also produce widespread flooding of smaller, fast-responding creeks in the area.

Stay alert to changing forecasts. “A Flash Flood or Flood Watch may be issued for portions of north and central Georgia in the next 24 to 48 hours if forecast totals remain similar.”

Gilmer has had a number of devastating storms in recent years, many locals know which creeks and rivers will rapidly rise, for those aware and those unaware, Public Safety is sharing information at this point to keep citizens from potentially being caught off guard.

Lower Cartecay Bridge to start construction before a temporary closure to 52 East

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – During the county’s monthly work session today, information received over a zoom call was revealed as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, along with Public Works Director Jim Smith spoke on it’s involvement with another Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) bridge project.

According to Smith, the state is discussing replacement of two bridges on Highway 52 East. The project would require a detour along state roads as they plan to go about the project. Smith went on to add that this could mean closure of as section of the highway for up to a year.

Through traffic would take alternative state roads. However, Smith noted that much of the local traffic would end up relying on Lower Cartecay Bridge for certain traffic and access routes. The project has been under discussion since it was condemned in April, 2017. It was later adopted into a state replacement program, and it was later given a priority over another local bridge.

Now, the bridge could see the beginning of construction to replace it over five years later. According to Chairman Paris, the date given by the state would be August, 2022.

In addition to this, Smith said that the state hopes to start its 52 East Bridges project in 2025.

Public Works Director Jim Smith

Paris added later that Smith presented a strong argument that the DOT needs to move the start date on Lower Cartecay to a earlier date so that the bridge will definitely be completed and available for traffic as necessary for local traffic.

While the state made no official promises, Smith said representatives “didn’t disagree” with a need for an earlier start to Lower Cartecay.

This project has gone through several plans for replacement in the county as former Post Commissioner Travis Crouch debated for setting aside money in the annual budget to replace the bridge before the board found the state replacement program.

A massive reduction in local costs, the county applied and was accepted into the program, but has, until today, never heard of official start dates for the physical construction as the state has been acquiring right of ways and engineering plans for the project.

Paris said both he and Smith stressed the importance of having he bridge completed sooner rather than later, especially with another major bridge project nearby so close behind it on the timeline.

Health Department Responds to positive test in Courthouse

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GIlmer Health Department

ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer’s Health Department and Courthouse are working closely together this week after a confirmed positive test was reported by the county Probate Judge, Scott Chastain.

FYN reached out to the Health Department and spoke with Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris about the Health Department’s involvement. Both entities noted that the Georgia Department of Public Health already has guidelines and directions in the case of positive exposure and the Courthouse is already taking measures in its own way.

Public Information Officer and Risk Communicator for the North Georgia Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Jennifer King said, “COVID-19 is still transmitting in Gilmer County… and while we don’t refer to any specific cases or locations unless we have reason to believe the public is at a higher level of risk, we do share the latest Governor’s Executive Orders relating to COVID-19 protocols with the public, businesses, organizations, and agencies to follow, including information that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and how to respond if cases occur.”

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Gilmer County Courthouse

King asserted that Gilmer’s local Health Department is working closely with the community in every way possible. Paris also noted that he had been in contact with the Health Department as the courthouse was responding to the exposure.

Continuing communication reaches far beyond just the courthouse, though, as King said, “Our local health department and environmental health office work very closely with community partners, including EMA, Family Connections, government agencies, businesses, churches and schools to remind residents of measures they can take to prevent the spread of the virus and protect against COVID-19.”

King said that public health is urging people to get tested for COVID-19. She went on to note that the department is also attempting to provide that opportunity to do so for free. She said, “We are attempting to prevent further spread of the transmission through contact tracing and repeatedly reminding residents of the critical need to always wear a mask in public, wash their hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer, avoid large crowds, social distance away from others by at least 6 feet, avoid physical contact with others by not shaking hands or giving hugs, and stay home and call their doctor if they feel they may have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive over the past 14 days.”

Public Health is urging people to get tested for COVID-19 through options like Drive-Thru Testing sites providing free testing for citizens.

The Health Department is reaching out across all platforms of media to spread the information of options like the drive-thru testing sites and schedule postings

Citizens who feel they have been in contact or may have been in the courthouse recently are also encouraged to visit the Testings Website. Gilmer has their own testing site times, on Mondays and Fridays, but there are other sites in our nearby counties in case some residents find it more convenient to register for an appointment at one of those.

King also stated, “Because the number of cases in our Hispanic/Latino population in Gilmer County is disproportionally high, local public health works with community leaders, partners, churches and schools to increase outreach to this community by sharing translated information, encouraging free COVID-19 testing, and providing education about the need to prevent the spread of the virus and how to protect against it.”

The Public Health website offers information in both English and Spanish as well as several flyers in both English and Spanish.

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