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Gov. Brian Kemp says initial COVID-19 vaccine doses will go to front line workers, most vulnerable; general public will have to wait 'months'

The average Georgian on the street will not be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine right away, Gov. Brian Kemp announced on Tuesday.

Kemp and Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey addressed reporters about plans to distribute the vaccine that Moderna and Pfizer has developed for COVID-19. The big takeaway is that there will be a limited number of vaccines available to Georgia health officials and those doses will go to front line workers and the most vulnerable Georgians.

The general public will have to wait before it can get vaccinated.

“Our first shipments will be anywhere near close enough for anyone in our state to stop following the same health guidance that we’ve had in place for many months,” Kemp said. “The limited number of vaccine doses we will receive in the coming days will be going to the most vulnerable and those on the front lines of fighting COVID-19. That means residents of nursing homes and our health care workers.

“The general public will not be able to be vaccinated for months. We must all continue to still wear a mask. We must still wash our hands. We must continue more than ever to watch our distance.”

The vaccine is expected to arrive in Georgia within the next week to 10 days, but how many doses will be coming to the state is unclear. Toomey said “likely over several hundred thousand doses” are expected to come to Georgia initially in weekly batches, but she declined to give a specific number.

“I’m not giving you a specific number because I expect those numbers may change over time and we may actually have additional vaccines available,” Toomey said.

As Monday afternoon, Georgia has seen 448,683 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic arrived in the state in March. The state has also seen a total of 9,007 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, 844 probably deaths, 36,270 hospitalizations and 6,691 ICU admissions since March.

Georgia’s two-week numbers, which public health officials have said is an indicator of how the disease is currently spreading, shows the state has had 42,925 cases and an incidence rate of 396 cases for every 100,000 residents over a 14-day period through the beginning of this week.

Some of the biggest hot spots in the state are in northeast Georgia — from Hall and Jackson counties northeast to Rabun, Habersham and Stephens counties — as well as sporadic other spots around the state, including Chattahoochee, Whitfield, Murray, Echols, Hancock, Tift and Coffee counties.

Kemp and Toomey both said they plan to take the vaccine early on once it is available for them. The governor said he would have to talk to the public health commissioner to determine the best time to get vaccinated.

“I certainly don’t want to take the vaccine from one of our front line health care workers or one of our most vulnerable,” Kemp said. “However, if it helps give confidence to our most vulnerable and front line health care workers for me to take the vaccine early, I will definitely be willing to do that.”

Lawrenceville set to open new downtown parking deck this week

By the end of this week, Lawrenceville’s residents and visitors will have a new place to park their cars in the city’s downtown area as the town reaches a big milestone in one of its major construction projects.

The parking deck that will connected to the planned The Lawrence Hilton Tapestry hotel at the corner of Jackson and East Crogan Streets is expected to open this week, although City Manager Chuck Warbington said an exact opening date will depend on when the final “punch list” — the check list city officials use to make sure a project is ready to open to the public — can be completed.

It’s a key step for Lawrenceville, however, because it is the first phase of The Lawrence’s construction, and construction can now pivot to building the hotel itself.

“It should be open to the public sometime this week,” Warbington said. “We’ve got to do a final punch list this week and that’s basically it. The areas that are not going to have the eventual hotel, they’re going to go ahead and finish with landscaping, and that should happen this week, finishing the sidewalk and the connections there.

“So, I think by the end of this week, you’re going to see the parking deck will be complete.”

The parking deck is one of the projects where Lawrenceville officials were able to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic putting some other construction projects on hold earlier this year. The contractor working on the deck was able to put additional crews to work on this project over the summer and, as a result, the deck is opening a couple of months earlier than planned.

Entrances open early on will be on Chestnut and Luckie Streets.

“We may work on some additional signage temporarily, just to let folks know it’s open, because it will still look like a construction site for awhile,” Warbington said. “We’ve got to think through what that looks like once we take ownership of the facility.”

It won’t have all of the approximately 380 parking spaces that it will eventually have available right away, however. Warbington said the only the bottom two levels of the three story deck will be available right now because of the construction on the hotel.

The top deck, which can be accessed from East Crogan Street, will open once the hotel opens in 2022.

“Right away, it will be 260 (spaces available),” he said.

The parking deck is not the only downtown construction project wrapping up in Lawrenceville this month.

Work on the permanent stage located at the Lawrenceville Lawn is also about to wrap up. Warbington said the stage should be ready to open in less than two weeks.

“The lawn will be done right before Christmas,” Warbington said. “We’re expecting it to be around Dec. 20, so it will be about two more weeks.”

A Dec. 20 opening is just days before the stage is set to host its first event.

“I think first Baptist church and First United Methodist will be doing a (joint) Christmas Eve service there, so that will be the first event that will happen there, but it will definitely be open before then,” Warbington said.

The new facility will feature a main stage facing the Lawrenceville Lawn, as well as a smaller stage facing the SouthLawn mixed-use development.

There are just a few items left to finish before the stage will be ready to open to the public — the main one being the parking area behind the stage.

“They should be paving the parking lot this week, weather pending, and we’ll do a final punch list in a week or so,” Warbington said.

Latino voters take the spotlight as Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs approach

As U.S. Senate candidate Jon Ossoff addressed a crowd of supporters at a Latino voter registration rally outside Plaza Las Americas in Lilburn on Monday, he touched on an important topic in the Latino community — immigration — by talking about his own mother.

Ossoff’s mother immigrated to the U.S. from Australia and eventually became a U.S. citizen.

“My mother came to this country as an immigrant when she was 23 years old because she believed in America, because she believed that this is a country on a journey of progress,” he told the crowd. “She became a citizen because she recognized that voting is how we make change.”

In a way, the rally in Lilburn underscored how important Democrats in Georgia have come to see Latino voters as being to their election hopes, particularly with both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats going to runoffs on Jan. 5. Ossoff is facing Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., for one of the seats while Rev. Raphael Warnock is challenging Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., for the other seat.

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro headlined the rally, which also featured state Rep. Pedro Marin, D-Duluth, and Latinx outreach staffers from the Ossoff and Warnock campaigns.

Like Ossoff, Castro talked about an immigrant in his family — in this case his grandmother — and how far his family was able to go in America.

“She worked as a maid, a cook and a babysitter her whole life to give my mother, who was her only child, a better shot at life,” Castro said. “And, just two generations after my grandmother got here, one of her grandsons, my brother Joaquin, was a United States congressman, representing the hometown of San Antonio that she came to, and the other one was serving (President) Barack Obama in the cabinet of the United States.

“That is the beauty of America, and that is the type of America that is on the line.”

Latinos gaining importance as a voting block

The role and importance of African-Americans in the Democratic Party’s voting block has traditionally gotten more press than that of Latinos and Asian-Americans.

But, the runoffs have gained national and international attention, particularly in the aftermath of President-elect Joe Biden’s election. That’s because Democrats could flip control of the Senate away from Republicans if Ossoff and Warnock can beat their incumbent opponents.

With the stakes and national implications being as high as they are in the runoffs, Democrats are courting as many voters as they can, urging members of various ethnic groups to register to vote if they have not already done so.

Marin, who has served in the Georgia House of Representatives for 18 years and was one of the first Latinos elected to the Georgia General Assembly, said the Latino voting block has grown considerably in Georgia since he was first elected. Marin and outgoing state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero, D-Norcross, were co-chairs of the Biden campaign’s Latino outreach committee in Georgia during this year’s presidential campaign.

“When I got elected in 2002, there were less than 20,000 Latino registered voters,” Marin said. “fast forward to 2020, we’ve got over 300,000 Latino registered voters, so we have done a good piece.

“Yes, there’s still hundreds of thousands that haven’t been registered or don’t go out to vote, but that’s a job of organizations out there, that’s the job of the organizers, the canvassers, door knockers and people on the ground that has to do that for us to be able to push that envelop and make sure Latinos (get registered).”

As of Nov. 1, which is the most recent date from which demographic information on registered voters in Georgia is available from the Secretary of State’s Office, there were 54,258 registered voters in Gwinnett County. That is about 9.3% of the 582,917 registered voters in the county.

A possible sign of how much influence the Latino voting bloc has had on recent elections could be the fact that the controversial 287(g) program, where local Sheriff’s offices hold jail inmates who are undocumented residents for U.S. Customs and Immigration officials, was the major issue in the Gwinnett County sheriff’s race this year.

Snellville resident Antonio Molina, who has been active in Democratic circles in Gwinnett for years and ran for Snellville City Council at one point, said that Latinos will be a political force to be reckoned with in the future. That’s due to the growing portion of the population of Gwinnett County — Georgia’s second most populous county — that they make up, he said.

“The reality of our county is that it’s going to be Latino,” Molina said. “With that in mind, as we’ve always said, as so goes Gwinnett, so goes the state. We’ve seen that happen and it’s going to continue to happen. So, that’s why all eyes are on our community to make sure that our youth, our future, is well-informed and participates in the process.”

PHOTOS: Senate candidate Jon Ossoff and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro campaign in Lilburn

‘More Latino power’

Several people in the crowd at the rally in Lilburn on Monday held signs, some of which were homemade, that were in Spanish. One such sign, for example, included the phrase, “Una mayoria Democrata = Mas Poder Latino,” which roughly translates to “A Democratic majority = More Latino power.”

A day after the Nov. 3 election, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative said Biden got 75% of the votes cast in Gwinnett County election precincts that had high concentrations of Latino residents — although county elections officials were still counting ballots from the election at that time.

Marin said the rally on Monday — which was the last day for Georgians to register to vote in the Jan. 5 Senate runoff election — was a key opportunity to show young Latinos why it is important for them to be involved in the political process.

“Politics plays a big role in everybody’s life at the local, the state and the federal, so today (Monday), I think they’re understanding ow important this race coming up on Jan. 5 (is), so we can change the way this country has been going for the last four years,” Marin said.

But, Molina conceded that not all Latino voters back Democrats. There are a number of Latinos in Georgia, such as former state Rep. David Casas and Loganville Mayor Rey Martinez, who are Republicans. Lou Solis, who was the Republican nominee for Gwinnett County sheriff this year, is also a member of the Latino community.

“Obviously, we’re not a monolithic group,” he said. “But, I will tell you that, in this state, based on the treatment that our community has gotten from the Republican Party, we definitely align more with the Democratic Party because it’s the party that opened its doors to us and allowed us the opportunity to look after our interests and after our families.”

Nitheyaa Shree

Georgia Police K9 Foundation donates vests for Lawrenceville PD K9s

Two Lawrenceville Police K-9s are getting some protection from the Georgia Police K9 Foundation.

The foundation is donating LOF Streetfighter Vests to the Lawrenceville Police Department for two of its K-9s. The vests are expected to be presented to department officials in January.

“Lawrenceville Police Department’s K-9 Ali, a six-year-old German Shepherd, and K-9 Hyro, a four-year-old German Shepherd, both serve and protect the citizens of Lawrenceville for the mere payment of a reward toy and praise from their handlers,” the foundation said.

“They absolutely love family time and meeting the wonderful people in the Lawrenceville area. However, these incredible Law Enforcement K-9s’ all time favorite activity is playing the game at work as a dual purpose K-9s. Whether they are taking narcotics off the streets or tracking down bad guys and even missing children or adults, our four-legged officers love doing their job.”

The vests are designed to have a lightweight soft body armor so the K9s will not become exhausted and overheated while performing their duties. That is especially important in summer months when heat indexes can exceed 100 degrees within a few minutes.

Foundation officials it is important to keep a K-9’s body temperature down while they are performing their police duties because they could otherwise experience heatstroke.

“The fabric in the LOF Streetfighter vest helps regulate the K-9’s body temperature keeping them comfortable and cool and are meant to be worn for entire shifts so that our four legged officers are protected at all times,” foundation officials said. “K-9 Officers unconditionally run into dangerous situations, regardless of whether or not a suspect could be armed with a lethal weapon.

“These vests are bullet resistant and shield the K-9’s vital organs during any apprehension that may involve tracking and even, detaining a fleeing suspect before an officer can take full control. The Georgia Police K9 Foundation could not be more excited knowing we have assisted in the protection of our K-9 officers against work related injuries or worse yet, death.”