HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw supported the closure of the Appalachian Trail due to the national COVID-19 outbreak to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest Ranger District on March 25. Bradshaw stated that the closure of the trail, which crosses the eastern portion of Towns County, will support social distancing and ensure that local emergency services will not become overloaded.
Numerous rescues are performed on the famed Appalachian Trail by area first responders each year, a factor that Bradshaw took into consideration while planning for an uncertain future. Towns County declared a State of Emergency on March 24, a result of the coronavirus crisis.
Hiawassee is the first official town that the hikers reach when traveling north on the Appalachian Trail, or the last town on the long journey south. The Appalachian Trail extends through 14 states, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. An estimated 2 to 3 million visitors walk portions of the trail each year, including a few hundred who complete the entire 2,190-mile trek. Hikers often exit the trail to venture into Hiawassee at Dick’s Creek Gap, located next to Highway 76 in the eastern portion of Towns County.
Continue to follow FYN for updates on the potential closure of the Appalachian Trail.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Elected and appointed officials from all Towns County, Hiawassee, and Young Harris government and emergency agencies, with the exception of Towns County Sheriff’s Office, gathered for a press briefing at the Towns County Courthouse, Tuesday, March 17, to assure citizens of the swift response to COVID-19.
“Information has been a key point in this whole thing, We still want to continue our stance, our request to the public to not spread things that aren’t credible,” Towns County Emergency Management Director Brandon Walls said. “If it doesn’t come from a very credible source – as in us, the CDC, the Georgia Department of Public Health – we want to continue to ask citizens, don’t spread it.” Walls explained how public speculation, especially on social media, can lead to widespread misinformation.
Dr. Jonathan Lawerence, the county’s volunteer EMS Medical Director, attended the briefing. Dr. Lawerence praised the measures that Towns County is implementing in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“So this is like the phase one,” Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw said. “My department heads have been working on this for a couple of weeks for where we’re at right now, for these closings, how we’re handling it, how we’re handling our employees. If it gets worse, and it possibly could and we pray that it don’t, but if it gets worse and we get people in the county that’s affected with it and showing positive to the virus, we are working now – the department heads and myself – on the next phase. How will we do it? Will we close the courthouse? If we close the courthouse, how will we conduct business? Those are the things that we’re going to be working on after this meeting today and the rest of the week.” The commissioner assured that his office could operate remotely in a “worst-case scenario.”
Commissioner Bradshaw said that the county is in contact with state and federal agencies in “real-time” and informed that the Towns County website and Towns County Emergency Management Agency Facebook page will be continually updated with information and “potential and actual COVID-19 cases” in the immediate area.
Towns County EMS Director Ken Nicholson explained that the temperature of paramedics and EMTs are now taken at the start and end of each shift, along with describing the high-level of precautions taken to protect the health of patients and medical units. Towns County 911 Director Marty Roberts said that 911 callers are asked a series of screening questions prior to the arrival of first responders. Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland stated that firefighters have been instructed to respond singularly to medical calls to reduce the odds of a multi-quarantine should the virus be presumed or confirmed. A substantial amount of medical masks, gowns, and face shields were reported on hand for all departments.
Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith stated that during traffic stops, officers have been instructed to ask citizens to read their driver’s license number rather than physically exchange the information with law enforcement. Young Harris College Police Chief Ken Henderson offered to assist all county and city agencies as needed.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales informed that the interior of Hiawassee City Hall is closed as a precautionary measure. Payments can be submitted through the on-site dropbox, however, or online. Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby said that Young Harris City Hall remains open at this time due to window partitioning in the building’s lobby.
Continue to follow FYN for now-news on COVID-19.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A wife and mother quarantined with her family to monitor for COVID-19 in Towns County reached out to FYN on Sunday afternoon, March 15, to share her story, stressing the importance of transparency with the public in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen — the spouse of Thanh Nguyen, a Fulton County firefighter who was exposed to the virus when responding to an infected patient — had several pertinent messages for the local community.
Rather than separate from Nguyen while the veteran firefighter self-monitors for the onset of symptoms, the family decided to quarantine as a unit for the 14-day period required. The quarantined family consists of the couple and their four children, two of whom attend college and a daughter who attends Towns County Schools.
Shannon Baldwin-Nguyen assured that none of her children visited the school campus following her husband’s exposure to the virus and that the family self-quarantined immediately upon Nguyen’s arrival in Towns County on March 10. “Whenever we were notified that he was going to be on home quarantine, I called (Towns County Schools Superintendent) Dr. Berrong and let him know,” Baldwin-Nguyen explained. “I didn’t want anyone at the school to have questions as to whether she had exposed anyone. We have two in college and they did the same. They contacted the administration and their employer to inform them of the situation. The college students are doing their assignments via email and not going to work.”
Baldwin-Nguyen said that their food supply is beginning to run low but the family has relatives who have delivered additional supplies to their driveway.
“We have four children at home so I’ve always bought more than most because of that,” Baldwin-Nguyen said.” I didn’t go out and buy more on Monday night whenever they put them in quarantine. He arrived here at this home around 2 a.m. Tuesday. We have multiple homes, but the one in Hiawassee is the one that I keep fully stocked so that is why he is here. We felt as a family that we should be together.”
The family, who is on day 6 in isolation, is not experiencing any indication of COVID-19 at this time. Nguyen, a Vietnamese refugee who became Georgia’s first Asian firefighter, is reporting his daily health conditions to the proper authorities. “He had a video-chat with the physician during the week,” Baldwin-Nguyen told FYN. “I can’t stress how impressed I am with The City of South Fulton Fire Department, I’ve been through almost 50 years of being in the fire department family with my daddy and husband so I’ve witnessed a lot. The new chief did a great job after finding out that his firefighters were exposed.”
Nguyen and his family were not advised to test for the virus unless they begin to exhibit symptoms.
Towns County Emergency Management Agency assured that there are no other known quarantined individuals in Towns County as of March 15, and no confirmed cases of the virus.
“Towns county government and emergency services continue to learn and prepare,” Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls issued in a statement to FYN. “We want to remind citizens that we currently have no active cases of COVID-19 in Towns County. We understand that one individual was exposed while working in a public safety role in another county and is on home quarantine within Towns County, please be aware that this poses no risk to other individuals. We ask that you take part in preventing the spread of this virus by being mindful of your health and hygiene, and educating yourself from credible sources.”
FYN contacted Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw who stated that he was made aware of the quarantine situation last week by Towns County EMA. FYN intends to remain in remote contact with the Nguyen family throughout what will hopefully be the final week of their ordeal.
“It’s our duty that everyone works together to keep the spread of germs to a minimum,” Baldwin-Nguyen said. “We knew that this would get out and feel that it’s best if information comes from us as opposed to assumptions.” Towns County EMA, along with the Ngutgen family, urged residents who may experience symptoms related to COVID-19 to alert 911 dispatch prior to the arrival of emergency responders.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County officials and health providers gathered in recent days, focused on disseminating information related to COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus. Rhonda Calwell, a registered nurse trained in Infection Control and Prevention with Union General Hospital, held a seminar for the public on March 10, at the Towns County Recreation and Conference Center in Young Harris. The following day, a PowerPoint presentation was led by Towns County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) with local emergency responders in attendance.
FYN spoke with Towns County EMA Director Brandon Walls on Wednesday, March 11. Walls stated that EMA is “closely monitoring” the spread of the virus outbreak. Walls added that the department is involved in “active and heavy situational awareness” with “advice and guidance exchanged between local, state, and federal agencies.” Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw indicated that policies related to the virus outbreak may transpire in coming weeks.
There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Towns or surrounding counties at the time of publication.
On March 10, Towns County Schools announced guidelines stating that students, staff, and any individual who attends or visits the campus must impose a 14-day self-quarantine should they meet certain criteria. If the individual or a house member has traveled outside of the U.S. in the past two weeks, or if they have been in close contact with anyone who has contracted COVID-19, self-monitoring for the onset of virus symptoms is warranted. Students and staff must remain fever-free for a 14-day period prior to their return to campus.
Quarantined students and staff are required to report symptoms associated with COVID-19 to the Department of Public Health (DPH) by dialing 1-866-PUB-HLTH, additionally seeking medical assistance. According to the school’s administration, students will be provided class assignments during the quarantine period, and absences will be excused.
“We’re talking with the school daily,” Walls told FYN. “We’re looking at the response plan to see if changes need to be made.”
Walls stressed that the public should not panic nor “add to the hype” but rather follow CDC and DPH health guidelines and pursue accurate information on the virus.
As of March 10, there were 22 confirmed or presumed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia. While the risk of infection remains relatively low, citizens are urged to take general precautions recommended to reduce the spread of any respiratory illness.
“More cases of COVID-19 are likely to be identified in the United States in the coming days, including more instances of community spread. It’s likely that at some point, widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur,” Georgia’s DPH website states in part. “Widespread transmission of COVID-19 would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time. Schools, childcare centers, and workplaces, may experience more absenteeism. Mass gatherings may be sparsely attended or postponed. Public health and healthcare systems may become overloaded, with elevated rates of hospitalizations and deaths. Other critical infrastructure, such as law enforcement, emergency medical services, and sectors of the transportation industry may also be affected. Healthcare providers and hospitals may be overwhelmed.”
Georgia physicians are now capable of ordering tests for COVID-19, and private labs can process the samples.
FYN will continue to update information related to the virus outbreak as developments occur.
FetchYourNews.com attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month with a 60,000 Facebook page reach. Approximately 15,000 viewers visit FYNTV.com
If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of our counties of coverage, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com