COVID-19 vaccine moving off-site at some health department locations

Community, News
Labor Day vaccines health departments covid

GAINESVILLE – In anticipation of the upcoming flu season and to prepare for the approval of the COVID-19 booster dose for the general population, District 2 Health Departments will be re-opening some of its off-site COVID-19 mass vaccination sites.

Approval for the booster dose is still pending; however, starting Monday, September 20, Forsyth and Hall County will move to their designated off-site locations to begin administering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.  The district will not administer booster doses until approval and guidance is granted by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and FDA.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) will await recommendations from the CDC and ACIP before releasing a plan to administer booster doses of Pfizer COVID vaccine in Georgia. The FDA’s discussion and review of data about the need for COVID vaccine boosters is a first step in the process; the same questions will be considered by ACIP during meetings currently scheduled for Sept. 22-23. When CDC/ACIP provide recommendations and guidelines for booster shots, DPH has the inventory to quickly ramp up access to Pfizer COVID vaccine statewide.

“We anticipate an increase in traffic in our health departments with the administration of both the COVID booster dose and flu vaccine,” said Dr. Zachary Taylor, District 2 Public Health Director. “By moving our COVID-19 operation off-site, we will alleviate the influx of people inside our waiting rooms.”

Forsyth County Health Department will operate its COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Northside Forsyth Hospital, Suite 360, located at 1200 Northside Forsyth Dr. Cumming, GA 30041.

Hall County will operate its mass vaccine site from the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, located at 1855 Calvary Church Rd., Gainesville, GA 30507.

The hours of operation for both sites are Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Appointments are not required. If an individual prefers to schedule an appointment, they may do so using the VRAS scheduling system via the District 2 Public Health website.  Hours of operation and locations may change due to demand. Reference the schedule of locations and hours posted on the public health website to ensure the vaccine site in your county is operational.

For more information on the COVID-19 booster dose visit the CDC website to learn more.

Towns most COVID-19 vaccinated county in the North Georgia Mountains

purple heart vaccine Towns

HIAWASSEE, Ga – In Towns County, 51 percent of the population have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

47 percent are fully vaccinated.

Union General Hospital is over capacity in the ICU by 160 percent and 140 percent over inpatient capacity as of August 31. Chatuge Regional Hospital is part of the Union General Health Systems.

Union General Hospital

Union General Hospital August 31 COVID-19 update

Of the 59 inpatients, 49 were unvaccinated and 4 were vaccinated.

Many patients at Chatuge Regional who receive an ambulance ride are having to wait in the vehicles until availability opens.

Mayor Liz Ordiales asked people to try and avoid any COVID risky activities if possible. She also urged people to get the vaccine. The health department and Ingles aren’t requiring prior appointments, walk-ins are welcome.

Upcoming Public Forum

A public forum concerning Towns, Hiawassee, and Young Harris’s future efforts will be held on Thursday, September 9 at 7 p.m. at the Recreation Center. Land use updates will be covered and the results of the comprehensive plan survey.

Councilmember Anne Mitchell received a certificate of recognition from UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Cell Tower

Verizon has proposed a 265-foot cell tower has been proposed in the area of Bell Creek and Bell Street. It should expand cell service in the city and county if approved.

Halloween Event

The city’s considering the future of the Halloween trick or treat event because of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. No decisions have been made yet, but they will keep an eye on the situation. The Delta Variant appears to be affecting children in greater numbers than previous variants of COVID-19.

Masks again required in Towns and Union Courthouses

mask requirement courthouses

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Enotah Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Raymond George issued a mask requirement for all visiting the courthouses in Union, Towns, White, and Lumpkin Counties.

The mandate will be in place at least until the Delta Variant wave of COVID-19 abates in the area. The order begins on Monday, August 23, 2021.

All who enter the courthouses will be required to wear backs and have their temperature checked.

In the last two weeks, the Department of Public Health has reported 72 cases in Towns, 146 cases in Union, 253 cases in Lumpkin, and 266 in White. Each county is listed as a high transmission area.

Local hospitals continue to report that their hospitals and ICUs are filled with COVID-19 patients.

Last week, Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order preventing local governments from imposing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses. However, school districts have the power to determine what measures work best for them.

Towns Elementary and Union Primary had to close their buildings for a week after experiencing significant spread throughout the staff and some students.

Anyone experiencing a COVID-19 related system, such as fever, cough, fatigue, should consider being tested for the virus. The Pfizer vaccine received full FDA approval for 16 and older on Monday, August 23. The vaccine is not yet approved for children younger than 12 even for emergency use.

Currently, Towns and Union County have higher vaccination rates than Lumpkin and White. 50 percent of Towns County has received at least one dose of the vaccine with 46 percent fully vaccinated. Union County is 42 percent fully vaccinated.

White and Lumpkin are 31 and 30 percent fully vaccinated.

Some breakthrough cases have occurred with the vaccine, but most of those patients are reporting less severe symptoms and not requiring hospitalization. Around 90 percent of hospitalized cases are individuals who weren’t vaccinated.

The health department, CVS, and Ingles are all offering COVID-19 vaccines. At some locations, an appointment isn’t necessary to get the vaccine.

COVID-19 precautions encouraged by Commissioner Bradshaw

testing site American Rescue Plan Bradshaw

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Chief Superior Court Judge Raymond George are recommending everyone to wear a mask and get vaccinated.

At the August meeting, Bradshaw announced he would be posting a letter from George urging everyone to be safe.

“Cases of coronavirus, COVID, or the variants thereof are rapidly increasing through our area while the mask mandate and social distance may not be a requirement at this time, they are encouraged. COVID-19 vaccines are strongly encouraged. They will benefit you and all those around you. Practice of good personal hygiene is also encouraged. Please be considerate of others do not enter if you are running a fever, coughing, or sneezing,” George wrote.

Bradshaw explained that the do not enter applied to the courtroom and any public place. Additionally, the commissioner confirmed he didn’t believe mandates were the best way to encourage safety habits but asks everyone to consider their health and the health of others when out in public.

“From your commissioner to you, I ask that you take precautions and do whatever you feel you need to do to keep yourself safe,” Bradshaw told the audience.

The county governments also seeing an increase in cases among employees. Schedules are being adjusted to account for quarantines and isolations due to COVID-19 cases.

“We’re working hard to keep our people safe and keep them on the job,” Bradshaw added.

Local area hospitals are currently full of COVID-19 patients. Towns County Elementary closed for the week because of an outbreak, and Clay County Schools enacted a mask mandate to prevent spread.

Department of Public Health is in the process of rolling out new testing sites, but it’s unclear if a facility will once again be available in Towns County. The closest DPH testing sites to Towns County are in Ellijay, Gainesville, and Dalton. A center in Lumpkin is listed to open on August 27.

Pharmacies continue to make COVID-19 tests available by appointment and at-home tests can be purchased at pharmacies or online.

The DPH Director Kathleen Toomey recommended that anyone who tests at home to test in person as well. The in-person tests allow DPH to gain an accurate understanding of community spread and contact trace.

Sand Bar and Hwy. 76

Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) has laid down rubber strips in front of the Sand Bar to determine the amount of and speed of traffic. The county and GDOT are discussing methods to make the area safer after the death of a young woman who was crossing the road.

“We’ve heard back from our district engineer,” Bradshaw stated. “They’ve got the plans ready on what they think they should do.”

The contract with Waste Management Services has increased to $3.02 a ton. Waste Management hauls solid waste out of Towns. The county’s determining how it will affect everyone but expect a rate increase that will trickle down to the homeowners by way of local haulers raising prices.

Caliber was hired to develop more accurate 911 maps to see all over the county. The contract agreement was $4,000.

The joint contract with UGA for the salary of the Towns County 4-H CEPA was signed. The county pays $5,534 as its portion of the agreement.

Towns agreed to pay Legacy Link $112,000 for their services at the Senior Citizens building for the senior program.

The final $5,739 in the 2011 SPLOST was spent to complete the new fire station.

An agreement with GEMA was signed to ensure mutual aid and assistance in any emergency or disaster.

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

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.

“We are seeing kinda what we saw last year. 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.

COVID-19 cases beginning to increase in Towns County


HIAWASSEE, Ga – Towns County’s beginning to see an increase in cases possibly due to the spread of the Delta Variant in Georgia or people returning to normal.

According to Georgia Department of Health (DPH) Data, all North Georgia is again listed as high transmission communities as of August 9, 2021.

The Towns County indicator report, which comes out every two weeks, noted that from 7/24 – 7/30 11 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, but the next week, the numbers grew to 29 confirmed cases.

Cases only recently began to increase in Towns. The county’s confirmed data has been a flat line since July 8, 2021.

High transmission counties according to DPH data.

COVID-19 associated emergency visits at the hospital between 7/30 – 8/6 were 17 percent. The previous week’s data was not calculated. Respiratory-related visits for the same time frame were 8 percent.

The statewide death rate doesn’t appear to match the recent surge in cases. However, this data takes a few weeks after the initial confirmed cases uptick to determine. Still, both numbers increase almost daily.

Health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Unfortunately, we can expect COVID numbers to keep growing. People who are unvaccinated or skip their second dose of vaccine are targets for infection,” said Kathleen E. Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant. High vaccination coverage will reduce spread of the virus in your community and elsewhere – and help prevent new variants from emerging.”

Vaccination rates in Towns County reached 45 for fully vaccinated and 48 percent with at least one shot.

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.

Courtesy of DPH

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.

The CDC recommends that everyone, even fully vaccinated, wear a mask indoors in high transmission areas.

Hiawassee City Council returning to in-person public meetings

Community, News

Hiawassee, Ga – Hiawassee City Council will host its first in-person public meeting at the end of April – a little over a year since the pandemic began.

Announced during the April 6 regular meeting, Mayor Liz Ordiales confirmed that the work session will be held at the Civic Center on April 26. Masks will be required for those in attendance.

Up until now, the city council broadcasted their meetings and work sessions over Facebook Live.

Budget Review

The budget discussion was pushed out until May 24 work session to give the council ample time to review and ask questions. The first reading will be in June.

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Towns tenth in the nation for new COVID-19 cases

LIz Ordiales Towns Covid-19

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended a Georgia Municipal Association conference call where Emory doctors and CDC officials warned Towns County and Georgia COVID-19 numbers were trending in the wrong direction.

“Georgia’s below the national average in testing. They’re higher than the national average in positive cases – 120 percent higher than we were in April,” Ordiales explained. “The rural counties are the worst hit.”

Towns County was ranked number 10 in the nation for increases and bad results and number one in new COVID-19 hospitalizations. In the last week, Towns confirmed 62 new cases with a positivity rate of 17.8 percent. The target rate for COVID-19 is five percent.

Chatuge Regional Hospital is currently full. Ordiales asked everyone to be careful because there’s no room at the hospital. The ICU and regular rooms are booked at Union General Hospital. Georgia hospitals are facing three issues: space, stuff, and staff. All three are running low.

“Their biggest concern now is they’re going to have to place less care on folks, “Somebody who is 90 who is sick do they really transport them because they have nowhere to take them.”

Emory and CDC condemned the vaccine rollout, stating that some vaccines in the state were wasted due to the lack of people available to receive the vaccine. As of Tuesday, 95,706 Georgians had taken their first COVID-19 shot. Both Pfizer and Moderna are a two-shot vaccine.

Follow the guidelines of gatherings of no more than 50 people and six feet of separation urged the local hospitals.

Election and qualifying fees were approved for the 2021 elections.

Hiawassee also paid off the remaining balance for a $1.2 million loan with a 4.375 interest rate. The city had paid $850,000 in interest with 18 years left on the loan. Hiawassee saved approximately $500,000 in interest.

Towns and Union Commissioners encourage public to practice caution concerning COVID-19

Community, News
Union Commissioner Lamar Paris COVID-19

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – With Georgia currently experiencing another COVID-19 spike, Union Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris and Towns Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw asked the communities remain vigilant against the virus.

According to the Department of Public Health Data from December 21, Union and Towns were considered high transmission counties along with most of North Georgia. However, neither were emerging counties meaning they didn’t exhibit a greater than five percent increase in cases and greater than 10 cases in the most recent week.

“It is spiking in Northeast Georgia,” Bradshaw remarked. “I now know people who have died from it, people who are very sick. I can’t express enough take it seriously wash your hands, wear your mask when you’re supposed to.”

He added that county offices have experienced the effects of the virus. The sheriff’s office had several people out sick because of the virus. Also, road department and EMS employees caught COVID-19 and can’t work.

Bradshaw did thank department heads and remaining employees for covering extra shifts during the pandemic. The road department, in particular, managed additional duties since the detainee crews aren’t available because of COVID-19.

Paris hosted the Union Commission meeting over Zoom after experiencing a secondary coronavirus exposure. He wasn’t sick but needed to quarantine until his test came back. The commissioner attended a socially distanced function with masks, but the masks were removed to eat. One of the people tested positive later in the week and Paris was advised to quarantine from the public until Monday, December 21. He told those attending the commission meeting on Thursday, December 17 that he wasn’t experiencing symptoms.

The event he attended where an individual tested positive took place on Thursday, December 10.

“We have to be cautious and follow the CDC guidelines if we expect other people to do that,” Paris stated. “I took the test today and that will take probably a couple of days, possibly Saturday [December 19] before I hear results.”

Governor Brian Kemp announced on December 23 that the World Congress Center would be converted to house 60 hospital beds. Earlier in the year, the state transformed the building into a make-shift hospital for COVID-19 patients if necessary.

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