Gwinnett County commissioners have not committed to putting a transit referendum on the general election ballot in November, but there are indications that they might do so, and after a long wait, the Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary has opened at the former game ranch site.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Gwinnett County commissioners indicating November transit referendum is possible
Gwinnett County commissioners have still not committed officially to putting a transit referendum on the general election ballot in November, but there are some indications that they might do so.
During an informal discussion the commission had on transit expansion this past week, Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said a meeting with representative of Gwinnett’s 16 cities is scheduled to take place May 28.
“That has to be done 60 days before the referendum call, per the statute related to (Georgia’s) new transit tax, so that’s keeping one funding source open for us by meeting those deadlines,” Nash told her fellow commissioners.
There is still a lot of unknowns about the future of transit expansion in Gwinnett. Although Nash’s comment about meeting with the cities — which will be designed to just take comments from the participants — indicates commissioners are looking at putting the issue on the November ballot, it does not outright confirm that will happen.
The last MARTA referendum had been penciled in for November 2018 up until the last minute, when commissioners suddenly decided to hold the referendum in March 2019 instead, so anything could theoretically happen.
But commissioners are looking at making a decision in July on a referendum.
“In my mind, I’ve got the third week of July programmed in,” Nash told her colleagues on the commission.
And, then there’s the issue of what shape the expansion would take. There would have to be an agreement on a project list.
Then there’s the MARTA questions.
The referendum that went before voters last year was on joining MARTA and using the Connect Gwinnett Transit Plan as a blueprint for service in the county. That plan was rejected by voters.
Whether Gwinnett might join MARTA as part of its transit expansion is still a question that is out there to be decided although some commissioners appear to be leaning in that direction.
“Are we already starting contract negotiations with MARTA or would we be waiting until all of that’s done,” Commissioner Ben Ku asked Nash.
The chairwoman was tight lipped publicly on that issue.
“I would rather talk about that individually,” she told Ku.
“Does the referendum project list have to go before ATL even if we chose to go with MARTA, contract with MARTA,” Commissioner Jace Brooks then asked.
“I think ATL’s position is going to be that it does, that it has to come back regardless,” Nash said.
But there are other issues commissioners still have to sort out as well. A revised project list submitted to the Atlanta Transit Link Authority board does include heavy rail to at least Jimmy Carter Boulevard, that project list is more of a menu listing things that the county can chose from when putting together a project list for a referendum vote.
“The big question that we’ve got to answer is whether we’re going to include rail or not in the proposed set of projects that we select,” Nash said. “I know we’ve got differences of opinion on that and I think I have said out loud to most of y’all I am my own best debate opponent on this topic.
“I can argue both sides of the question and have done it with myself already. I know this is going to be the toughest part of the decision.”
But, even that decision — or the timing of when it has to be made, to be exact — indicates commissioners appear to be putting pieces in place to hold a referendum in November.
The ATL board is expected to vote on accepting Gwinnett’s revised transit expansion plan at the end of the month. Local officials can’t finalize a referendum project list until after the plan is accepted.
“Our projects that we ultimately select, the package that we want to put on the referendum, has to go back to the ATL board for them to approve that subset of projects before we can move forward with the referendum,” Nash said. “I’ll add that we’ll make the decision after Memorial Day, but we can’t carry too long into June in making that decision. It’s got to be done within the first two weeks of June.
“Otherwise, we run into problems with getting the approval from the ATL board in time to make the call for the referendum when it has to be made.”
After long wait, Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary opens at former game ranch site
What a difference 15 years, some new owners and a new name can make.
Lilburn resident Becky Mueller said it had been about that long since she last brought her children to the Yellow River Game Ranch off U.S. Highway 78 in southern Gwinnett. Her memories of what the animal habitats were like back then were not the best.
“It was sad for the animals because they just looked like they were in a fence and ... it wasn’t well cared for,” Mueller said. “I just remember walking through the woods and it was like they just didn’t have things that the animals would need.”
On Thursday, Mueller and her husband, Cliff, visited the new Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary, which has replaced the game ranch under new ownership at the same site. She had a different, more positive assessment of what she saw after passing a new wide open, natural bear habitat and spaces for new animals, such as spider monkeys and lemurs.
“It’s a total difference,” Mueller said. “You can tell it’s well maintained (and) they’ve built a whole lot of structures that benefit the animals.”
Thursday marked the opening day for the Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary, which had been in development since Jonathan and Katie Ordway bought the former Yellow River Game Ranch site two years ago. The ranch had experienced a troubled past with issues concerning the treatment of animals — and it closed suddenly at the end of 2017.
The Ordways undertook extensive renovations to address issues at the site and to replace inadequate animal habitats. The bears, for example, were moved from a small concrete enclosure to a sprawling enclosed hillside exhibit with a shelter and a large pool with a waterfall.
“Originally, we were going to open eight months later (after buying the property), but then as it turned out water was a hose from the front, electrical was an extension cord from the front,” Katie Ordway said. “Before we closed on the property, we went from here down to Florida, looking at different zoos and sanctuaries, trying to come up with ‘OK could we do it? Could we make it?’
“But the idea that the bears going to be put down, it was like ‘OK, how do we make it so that never happens,’ and then (we) kind of built the place.”
Jonathan Ordway said it was “surreal” to reach an opening day for the sanctuary after spending two years working on it.
“I imagined it being open, but actually being here, having it open — I feel like I’m in a dream,” he said.
The couple said they want the sanctuary to provide education on animals and teach people to appreciate animals.
“And then a moment for children to make that connection with wildlife, with animals, so they become stewards for the environment and for wildlife in the future,” Jonathan Ordway said.
Throughout the remainder of May, the wildlife sanctuary is open Thursdays through Sundays for self-guided sneak peak tours where the number of people touring the grounds at any given time will be limited to help with social distancing. Anyone who wants to visit the sanctuary during the sneak peek period has to buy tickets in advance at yellowriverwildlifesanctuary.com.
Adult tickets cost $18, children ages 3 to 12 are admitted for $12 (kids 2 and under are free) and tickets for senior citizens and military personnel is $17.
The sanctuary has a largely different lineup of animals on display from the game ranch, although the ranch’s bears, bison, peacocks, pot-bellied pigs, turtles and deer remain.
Katie Ordway said the bears have responded favorably to their new habitat so far, doing things that bears in the wild typically do, such as rubbing their backs on trees. The bears have had some curiosity about their new habitat.
“One of them kept paws down (in the pool) and we started to think she’s never had water where she couldn’t feel the bottom so she kept putting her paw in further and further down,” she said.
Jonathan Ordway said another bear decided to feel at home on her own terms in the habitat.
“One of them decided she didn’t want to go back in (the night house shelter in the exhibit) and camped out overnight” on the hillside, he said. “We try to get them inside the night house, but she went up and started trying to make a den on the top of the hill, so that was kind of cute.”
Some of the new animal additions include spider moneys, ring-tail lemurs, red ruffed lemurs, kinkajous, owls, raccoons, goats, patagonian maras, walllabys, a serval, Eurasian lynx, coyotes, a miniature horse and alpacas.
The former bear enclosure is used to temporarily house the new animals, which each have to be quarantined upon arrival, when they arrive at the sanctuary. On Thursday, it was used to house a coyote whose actual habitat needs to be modified because he had proven himself capable of escaping it.
The new animals have come to sanctuary through different means. In some cases, Georgia Department of Natural Resources officials brought rescued animals there. In other cases, rescue groups brought them in or they came people who couldn’t care for them anymore.
“The serval that we have was walking loose in Buckhead and DNR got involved (and brought it to the sanctuary),” Katie Ordway said.
There is also a new attraction where visitors can buy bags filled with gems and sand and use water and a sifter to sort through the sand and find all of the gems.
Visitors who came to the sanctuary on its opening day gave it high praise.
“It’s very exciting to come back and see the new change that they’ve made,” said Snellville resident Camelia Moseley, who had visited the Yellow River Game Ranch once, about 11 years ago.
Moseley had been disappointed when the game ranch closed two and a half years ago because she had wanted to take her daughter, Aaliyah, and son, David, to see it. After a little bit of a wait, the kids did eventually get to see it this past week.
“I love it,” Aaliyah Moseley, 12, said. “All of the animals are so cute.”
Snellville resident Victoria Gunn also approved of the changes. Gunn had visited the game ranch as a child and brought her eight-month old daughter, Cora, to the sanctuary on Thursday.
“All of the animals seem more relaxed,” Gunn said.
The sanctuary is located at 4525 U.S. Highway 78 in Lilburn, and anyone who has questions about it can call 678-395-3453. The hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Photos of every 2020 valedictorian and salutatorian from Gwinnett County's public and private high schools.
COVID-19 testing in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale health district tops 11,000 as new test site prepares to open
Testing for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus surpassed the 11,000 tests mark this past week in the three-county health district that includes Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties.
Georgia officials celebrated the news on Friday that the state as a whole had surpassed 300,000 tests. Closer to home, officials with the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Boards of Health had administered 11,386 COVID-19 tests as of Thursday night, health district spokesman Chad Wasdin told the Daily Post Friday night.
In just the span of a week, the district has seen the percentage of tests coming back positive for COVID-19 continue to drop as testing increased. As of May 8, it was about 10%. By Friday night, it had dropped more than a percentage point.
“The positivity rate we’re currently seeing is around 8.5% for our entire district (and) we are still seeing a demand for testing,” Wasdin said.
The amount of tests for the disease that are being administered daily in the three-county health district is about to jump as officials from the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Boards of Health prepare to open a new testing site in Lilburn. This will be the health district’s second testing site in Gwinnett County, joining the existing site that is operating the Gwinnett County health department’s office in Lawrenceville.
Another testing site for the health district is operating in Covington.
Wasdin said the new site in Lilburn is set to open in the middle of this week, and residents can begin calling the testing hotline at the beginning of the week to make appointments for a test.
The hotline number is 770-513-5631. Anyone who wants to be tested for COVID-19 can get be tested, but they must make an appointment in advance to do so.
Meanwhile, Gwinnett has, to date, seen a total of 2,597 cases of COVID-19, the third highest total in the state, as of 7 p.m. Saturday. The county has also had 102 deaths from the disease and 509 hospitalizations, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The county has had an incidence rate of 267.42 COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 Gwinnett residents.
Statewide, there has been a total of 37,212 cases of COVID-19, 1,598 deaths, 6,767 hospitalizations and 1,556 ICU admissions.
There have been 321,069 tests conducted in Georgia.
The state has not released data on the number of people who got COVID-19 but later recovered from the disease.
Gwinnett, which is Georgia’s second most populous county, has also had one of the highest death tolls among the state’s 159 counties, behind only Fulton (165 deaths), Dougherty (134) and Cobb (132). DeKalb County has had the fifth highest death toll among all Georgia Counties (81 deaths in DeKalb), followed by Hall County (40 deaths).
“Even though Gwinnett is third in the state for the number of cases, Gwinnett is fourth for number of deaths,” Wasdin said. “That said, we’re saddened at any death. Our district’s median age for deaths is 78 years old, consistent with the state overall. This is why we’re focused on protecting those at greatest risk, which include the elderly and those who live in congregate living facilities.
“The Department of Public Health is encouraging all nursing homes have all their staff and residents tested, if they haven’t already been, and we are coordinating with these facilities to accomplish this.”
As far as total cases go, Fulton County continues to lead all Georgia counties with 3,749 cases. It is followed by DeKalb County (2,800 cases), Gwinnett, Cobb County (2,407 cases) and Hall County (2,146).
Dougherty has had 1,662 cases, the sixth highest total number of cases among all counties in the state. There are now more cases where the patient’s county of residence was unknown (1,787 cases) than there have been in Dougherty County.
“We can all protect the most vulnerable and ourselves by following infection prevention measures, like washing hands constantly, wearing a mask, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and continuing to socially distance when possible,” Wasdin said.
“The Health Department has free COVID-19 testing for anyone who wants to be tested. More information about scheduling an appointment is available online at www.gnrhealth.com/covid-19-info.”
POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Early voting for primary election begins Monday
There’s been a lot of talk over the last two months about Georgia’s presidential preference and general primaries, but now the time for voting in person has arrived.
Advance in-person voting, also known as early voting, begins Monday for the primaries which were combined into the same election in March because of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
From Monday until June 5, early voting will take place at the Gwinnett Voter Registrations and Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building, which is located at 455 Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville, and the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, which is located at 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway in Lawrenceville.
The only day during that period when early voting will not take place is May 25, which is Memorial Day.
The elections will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The fairgrounds will open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Both locations will be open noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays.
Four satellite locations will also be open daily from May 30 through June 5. The satellite locations will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on May 30 and June 1 to June 5, and noon to 7 p.m. on May 31.
The satellite locations are:
♦ Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, 2723 North Bogan Road in Buford
♦ George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center, 55 Buford Highway in Suwanee
♦ Lenora Park Gym, 4515 Lenora Church Road in Snellville
♦ Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center, 4651 Britt Road in Norcross
Sen. Ted Cruz endorses McCormick in 7th District race
Dr. Rich McCormick, one of several Republicans running for the open 7th Congressional District seat, announced this past week that he has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the race.
“Dr. Rich McCormick is the type of leader we need in Congress,” Cruz said in a statement. “He is a pro-life doctor and a man of faith. As a Marine and Naval Commander, Dr. McCormick knows what it will take to build the wall, secure our border, and keep America safe.
“I’m confident Rich will work with me to hold China accountable, rebuild our economy, and stand against rampant socialism. I urge conservatives to join me in supporting Rich for Congress.”
McCormick is locked in a tight race where some of his opponents have gone after him in recent weeks over his voting record. Businessman Mark Gonsalves and State Sen. Renee Unterman have challenged McCormick on whether he supports President Donald Trump.
Islam endorsed by Asian American Action Fund in 7th Congressional District race
Democrat Nabilah Islam announced this past week that she has received an endorsement from the Asian American Action Fund in the open 7th Congressional District race.
Islam is one of several Democrats running for the seat, which U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall is vacating at the end of his current term to enter retirement.
“AAAFund is excited to back Nabilah Islam’s historic campaign for Georgia’s Seventh Congressional District,” said Irene Natividad, AAAFund endorsements co-chair, in statement. “Nabilah has poured almost a decade of her life into tirelessly advocating for the people of Georgia and for progressive ideals.
“She knows Georgia’s Seventh District, her own community, inside and out, and she understands how to lead. Nabilah will take to Washington that same energy and integrity and continue her fight, on behalf of all Georgians, for economic equity, accessible healthcare, and immigration reform.”
Former AG candidate endorses Merritt in state Senate race
Nikki Merritt announced this past week that the Democratic Party’s 2018 nominee for attorney general, Charlie Bailey, has endorsed her in the state Senate District 9 race.
Merritt is one of the Democrats running for the seat, which is currently held by state Sen. P.K. Martin, R-Lawrenceville.
“The support of Charlie, a true fighter for justice, and so many other supporters from across the state has helped make this campaign in battleground Gwinnett possible,” Merritt said in a campaign email to supporters where the endorsement was announced.
Gwinnett County installing eight absentee ballot drop boxes for primary election
Gwinnett County residents will be able to return their absentee ballots for the June 9 primary election without needing to to dig up, or pay for, a stamp.
Gwinnett officials announced on Friday that they have installed eight official absentee ballot drop boxes around the county. Absentee by mail voting has been heavily promoted by state elections officials, and several candidates for public office, during the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
“In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office mailed absentee ballot applications to all active registered voters this spring,” county officials said in a statement. “The State Election Board since adopted an emergency rule allowing for the placement of secure ballot drop boxes for use by voters to turn in completed absentee ballots.”
Gwinnett voters can request an absentee by mail ballot for any reason, regardless of whether they will be in town on election day. The ballot will include Georgia’s presidential preference primary as well as the general primary for state and local offices, as well as some federal seats.
The decision to install drop boxes around the county will give residents who are concerned about risks to their health by voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic a way to cast their ballots in a way that doesn’t require them to pay for postage.
“No postage is necessary on ballots placed in the drop boxes,” county officials said in a statement. “The secure drop boxes are monitored by video and available 24/7 at (the eight) locations.”
County officials said voters can find an absentee ballot application form at GwinnettElections.com. They can also call the Voter Registrations and Elections Office at 678-226-7210 and ask for an application.
“A completed application must first be received before an absentee/advance ballot is issued,” county officials said. “Once County election officials verify the signature on the application, the voter will be sent a ballot for the June 9 election.”
The drop boxes will be available at the following locations:
♦ Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, 2723 North Bogan Road, Buford
♦ Dacula Park Activity Building, 2735 Old Auburn Ave., Dacula
♦ George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center, 55 Buford Highway, Suwanee
♦ Lenora Park Gym, 4515 Lenora Church Road, Snellville
♦ Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center, 4651 Britt Road, Norcross
♦ Mountain Park Aquatic Center,1063 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain
♦ Shorty Howell Park Activity Building, 2750 Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth
♦ Voter Registrations and Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building, 455 Grayson Highway, Suite 200, Lawrenceville
Government offices in Gwinnett County reopening after COVID-19-related closures
Government offices around Gwinnett County are beginning to return to normal after prolonged closures that were prompted by the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Gwinnett County Tax Commissioner’s Office and Sugar Hill government officials announced their respective offices will reopen Monday. Sugar Hill also plans to reopen its E-Center gym, albeit on an amended schedule, on Monday.
Both the Tax Commissioner’s Office and the city of Sugar Hill will be instituting a number of steps designed to limit the chances that COVID-19 will be spread in their offices.
“Our first priority is the safety of customers and associates,” Gwinnett Tax Commissioner Richard Steele said as his office announced its plans Thursday. “The safest option is for people to skip the trip entirely and just renew online or at a kiosk. Next is to skip the line by using our drop box service. For those whose business requires an in-person visit, such as new residents, we’ve made the process as safe as possible.”
Although offices will be reopening, they will not yet be back at full regular operations as government leaders ease back into more traditional ways of doing business.
Residents can pay taxes in person
The Tax Commissioner’s Office, for example, will reopen Monday through Friday service this week, but offices will remain closed on Saturdays. It will also implement a three-step process for dealing with customers. Residents who need to do business with the Tax Commissioner’s Office will check in. They will then wait in their car, and finally, they will go to a staging area when summoned.
Social distancing and regular sanitization of common areas will be practiced at county tax offices. The offices will now also offer contactless payment options, such as Apple, Android or Samsung Pay.
Tax officials are urging residents to be patient if they need to visit an office to make a payment. There are 200,000 residents who need to deal with tag, title and tax issues, according to the Tax Commissioner’s Office.
“Visiting on odd or even days to match birthdays is suggested — not mandated — to split the crowd,” officials said. “For example, a March 25 birthday would visit on odd days such as May 27, 29 and so on; and an April 24 birthday on May 26, 28 or so on.”
Sugar Hill taking a ‘staged approach’ to reopening
Sugar Hill officials already reopened Gary Pirkle Park for passive recreation earlier this month, but the city will take a major step forward on Monday when the E-Center gym and Sugar Hill City Hall reopen to the public.
The customer service department at City Hall will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays without appointment, but other city departments and services, such as passport services, will require appointments. The post office at City Hall will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. starting Monday as well.
City employees will be provided with masks that they will be required to wear “for the foreseeable future.” Anyone who visits city-owned facilities is asked to also wear a face covering and practice social distancing during their visit.
“We appreciate the community’s patience, flexibility, and support as we work to safely resume in-person city services,” city officials said in a statement. “City staff remain committed to providing continued customer service as we adapt to ensure the safety and health of our community.”
Residents will be able to pay gas utility bills in person at the Customer Service Office, but they can also pay by calling 1-855-748-1345 or visiting ipn.paymentus.com/cp/shga. Convenience fees for telephone and online payments made through June 5 will be credited back to customer’s accounts.
Although passport services will be available by appointment at City Hall, officials are warning residents that the Department of Homeland Security has not yet resumed processing passport applications.
Meanwhile, the E-Center gym will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays for the time being. City officials are urging people in high risk categories, such as the elderly and people with chronic health conditions, to exercise at home until June 13, however. Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19, has been diagnosed with it or who have been in contact with someone who either has it or is suspected of having it is asked to stay away from the gym until they have been cleared to engage in fitness activities.
Gym staff will monitor the facility to ensure compliance with statewide orders covering fitness centers, including prescreening visitors upon entry, enforcing social distancing requirements and sanitizing equipment between users.
Elsewhere in Sugar Hill, the city’s municipal court is expected to resume on June 12 with increased cleaning and sanitization processes, social distancing and the wearing of masks.
The Bowl and Sugar Hill and The Eagle Theatre will remain through June 12 as well.
Duluth, Suwanee and Lilburn reopened this past week
Officials in three Gwinnett cities got a bit of a jump start on their counterparts in Sugar Hill and at the Tax Commissioner’s Office by reopening some offices this past week.
Thursday saw the reopening of Duluth City Hall, the Duluth Public Works Facility, Suwanee City Hall, Suwanee Police Station, Suwanee Police Training Center, Suwanee Municipal Court, the Suwanee Public Works Facility, Lilburn City Hall, the Lilburn Police Department, Lilburn Municipal Court and the Public Works.
Duluth’s Municipal Court is set to resume Monday. New stipulations and procedures will be in place, however.
In Duluth, visitors must wear masks and practice social distancing. In court, the only people allowed into the courtroom will be the defendant and their lawyer, although there will be some exceptions to that rule. The exceptions include an interpreter if the defendant needs one and one parent if the defendant is under 21.
Lilburn officials said residents are encouraged to wear face masks and practice social distancing at those facility. City officials also said the facilities in Lilburn will be cleaned regularly as well.
Duluth parks and recreation buildings remain closed at this time, but the city did reopen the tennis courts at W.P. Jones Park and Bunten Road Park for open play only earlier this month. Public restroom facilities for those tennis courts have also reopened.
Suwanee’s playgrounds are closed and pavilion rentals are suspended, but city parks and restrooms have remained open. The city has cancelled all public events through July 10, however.
Information about the Suwanee’s response to COVID-19, including facility reopenings, is being made available at www.suwanee.com/i-want-to/learn-about/covid-19/.
Water Resources reopens lobby to customers
Gwinnett County Department of Water Resources customers can now go into the lobby of the department’s office in Lawrenceville to pay bills and do other business, but there are limitations.
No more than nine people can be in the lobby at a time and an employee will be stationed there to ensure social distancing takes place. One-way paths have been marked as well.
Despite the lobby’s reopening, officials are still encouraging customers to pay their bills online at www.gwinnetth2o.com/paymybill or by phone at 678-376-6800, Option 1.
Libraries to begin curbside hold pickups later this month
Anyone eager to visit a library soon will have to wait a little bit longer, however.
Officials with the library system said the branches will remain closed to the public until further notice, but that doesn’t mean residents won’t be able to have any interaction with their local libraries. Book drops are expected reopen to accept returns on May 26. The library system will also start curbside hold pickups on that day.
The pick up times will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
Twenty Gwinnett County Public Schools students offered appointments to service academies
Nearly two dozen Gwinnett County Public Schools students have received appointments to attend one of the nation’s five military service academies.
The school system announced this week that 20 of its students were offered appointments to attend a service academy. The schools include the U.S. Naval, Military, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine academies.
The appointments come with a combined total of more than $7.5 million in scholarship money.
Brookwood and Peachtree Ridge High Schools each had four appointments apiece, the largest number for any school in the district this year. They were followed by Mill Creek High School and the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, which each had three students receive appointments.
Students who attend the academies receive a free, four-year education, but must give a commitment to serve active military duty after graduation. In order to be considered for an appointment, students had to receive a nomination by their U.S. senator or U.S. representative and had to meet high educational and extracurricular standards. They also had to meet requirements for medical fitness and physical aptitude.
The students who were offered appointments included:
Brookwood High School
Aidan Perkins (graduated in December 2019) — U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
Natalie Chavez — U.S. Air Force Academy
Jacquelyn Gwynn — U.S. Naval Academy
Jordan Parks — U.S. Air Force Academy
Dacula High School
Brinley Rawson — U.S. Air Force Academy
Duluth High School
Thai Hoa Nguyen — U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
GIVE Center West
Julian Ortiz — U.S. Naval Academy
Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology
Jay Ho — U.S. Naval Academy
Keillan Laurenceau — U.S. Air Force Academy
Jonathan Purvis — U.S. Naval Academy
Mill Creek High School
Bryanne Buchanan-Cummings — U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Joseph Palchevskiy — U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
Logan Paugh — U.S. Naval Academy
North Gwinnett High School
Sebastien Thomas — U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
Peachtree Ridge High School
Matthew Adoghe — U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
Noah Choi — U.S. Coast Guard Academy
Corey Collins — U.S. Air Force Academy
Albert Jang — U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army)
South Gwinnett High School
Antonio Johnson — U.S. Air Force Academy
Elijah Rose — U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
Gwinnett County hospitals resuming some elective surgeries as COVID-19 hospitalizations dip
While hospitals in Gwinnett continue to treat patients for the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, there is one sign that life around the medical centers is beginning to return to something more akin to normal amid a pandemic.
Some of those hospitals are starting to resume some elective surgeries.
Eastside Medical Center began resuming some of those surgeries last week, while Northside Hospital Gwinnett and Northside Hospital Duluth began implementing their hospital system’s phased-in resumption of elective surgeries on April 27.
“This is a caseload that’s been out there and deferred because of the COVID pandemic and those are the folks that we’re really wanting to get back in now so they can get that needed healthcare addressed in an expeditious fashion,” Eastside Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Higgins said.
The resumption of elective surgeries at some local hospitals comes as health officials said the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations begins to subside. Last Friday, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments district health director, Dr. Audrey Arona, said hospitalizations because of the coronavirus are at 18%, down from a peak that she said had been above 20%.
On Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp said hospitalizations and the use of ventilators had hit its lowest point since reporting began in early April.
The governor said that, statewide, 1,134 COVID-19 positive patients were hospitalized, 1,987 critical care hospital beds were in use and 881 ventilators were in use. By comparison, the statewide figures for May 1 were 1,483 COVID-19 positive patients hospitalized, 2,119 critical care hospital beds in use and 989 ventilators in use., according to the governor’s office.
“This data shows that we are headed in the right direction in our battle with COVID-19,” Kemp said. “Every day, Georgians are recovering from the virus, freeing up hospital space as we continue to safely reopen our state and ramp up testing and contact tracing. This challenge is far from over. We are not out of the woods yet, so we must remain vigilant in following proper protocols from public health officials. The people of Georgia can rest assured that we are making progress, and together, we will win this fight.”
What is an elective surgery?
Higgins clarified that referring to a surgery as “elective” does not necessarily mean it’s an optional surgery. He said a better description would be to call it “scheduable.”
“You could have a patient who is in dire need of a knee replacement, they’re having a lot of pain and suffering and disability related to that, but it’s something that could be scheduled,” Higgins said. “So that’s an example of something that is categorized as elective, but it’s really not optional.
“It might be a woman who has a chronic abdominal or pelvic pain and needs a hysterectomy. That’s not really an urgent situation, but it is causing discomfort and suffering to that individual.”
How local hospitals have been handling surgeries
Not every hospital has resumed elective surgeries just yet.
Northeast Georgia Medical Center, which has campuses in Gainesville and Braselton, has not yet set a date for resuming elective surgeries, hospital spokeswoman Beth Downs said. That may not be too surprising since Gainesville has recently emerged as a hot spot for COVID-19 cases, however.
Surgeries at Northeast Georgia Medical Center are still being limited.
“We are doing urgent and emergent (surgeries),” Downs said.
But, the situation is different for Eastside Medical Center and Northside Hospital.
Eastside CEO Trent Lind said his hospital put together an advisory council over the last two months as it scaled back surgeries because of the pandemic. That council evaluated cases where surgery was necessary due to the acuity and urgency of the individual situation.
The hospital also followed guidance from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also known as CMS, which created tiers for different levels of cases.
Level 1 cases were those surgeries deemed elective that could wait for awhile until they were necessary while Level 2 cases were those where there was a greater need to perform a surgery sooner rather than later, such as a patient was experiencing pain. Meanwhile, Level 3 cases were the more urgent care cases where surgery was needed immediately, Lind said.
“Our surgical advisory council helped us to evaluate cases that were necessary and fell into that Level 3 category, maybe some Level 2, and then just (May 4), we started back with the elective cases that really fall into that Level 1 category,” Lind said.
Eastside Chief of Staff Dr. Michael Kissel said the hospital is also beginning with outpatient surgeries where people can be operated on and then go home the same day.
“That allows us to kind of slowly ramp up versus just opening the flood gates to every surgery,” he said. “We’re taking this very slowly and methodically to make sure everybody stays safe, and then after a couple of weeks, if everything is still going well in the state of Georgia and Gwinnett County and Snellville, then we’ll start expanding to surgeries where patients will stay inpatient longer.
“This is within guidelines from CMS and all of the anesthesia and surgical societies.”
Meanwhile, at Northside Hospital System, officials began surgeries late last month with specific cases that involved cancer, as well as time-sensitive procedures that had previously been delayed, hospital spokeswoman Katherine Watson said.
“The safety of our patients and staff remains paramount, and all patients will be required to undergo pre-surgical testing for COVID-19 within 72 hours of a scheduled procedure,” she said. “Clinical leadership will review surgical cases on a day-to-day basis. Close monitoring of ICU bed usage, the volume of COVID-19 patient visits and admissions, and any increased incidence of COVID-19 in the community will guide and inform this process as we move into further phases.”
Gwinnett's health director: Act as if COVID-19 is everywhere — and that everyone has it
With a new COVID-19 novel coronavirus hot spot emerging just north of Gwinnett County, and ZIP codes that have the highest incidence rates being scattered across the county, Gwinnett’s health director has a simple message for residents: no one should think there is any part of the county where people are safer from the disease.
That’s a message that officials from the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments have said for months as Gwinnett residents insisted they be told what part of the county the disease was showing up in.
But, with the public health state of emergency in Georgia approaching the two-month mark, it remains central to the health department’s message about why all Gwinnettians need to continue taking precautions.
“Act as if everyone around you is positive and as if you yourself are positive, and together, we’ll prevent the spread of this virus,” Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments District Health Director Audrey Arona said.
ZIP code-by-ZIP code incidence reports are now being released by the health district every Tuesday, and those rates show the number of cases per 1,000 residents, essentially showing the density of cases in a particular ZIP code.
The initial reports, however, have not shown a clear center of COVID-19 in Gwinnett. The top three ZIP codes from last week’s report included a ZIP code at the northern edge of Gwinnett; one in central Gwinnett that was west of Lawrenceville and immediately south of state route 316; and one in the Centerville area at the far southern tip of Gwinnett.
“It’s all over the county, and as the reports come in, those colors (denoting cases in each ZIP code) shift,” Arona said. “It’s good information to see, but the real message is it’s all over the county. It’s everywhere.”
Added to that is the fact that a new hot spot raising concerns among state officials is centered in Gainesville. Hall County currently has the 13th highest incidence rate among all Georgia counties so far, but all of the counties that have higher rates are in southwest Georgia, where the state’s first hot spot emerged.
A coronavirus hot spot in Gwinnett’s backyard
Hall County had an incidence rate of 988.13 cases for every 100,000 residents as of Monday night. That’s a sharp incline in just one week. On May 5, Hall’s incidence rate was 890.24 cases for every 100,000 residents.
The county has a population of 206,349 people, and it has seen 2,039 cases of COVID-19 reported so far, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner John King has been tasked with working with local officials to tackle education and outreach, particularly in the Hispanic community in Hall County, as state officials work to tackle the outbreak. Last week, King said a task force, Gainesville Against COVID-19, has been formed in Hall County to tackle the issue and increase information and education in multiple languages.
“Priority one is to find ways to communicate effectively the safety measures including practicing social distancing, wearing masks in public and avoiding large social gatherings,” King said. “This work will involve coordinating with local businesses, radio stations, churches and other organizations to stop the spread of this disease using the Hispanic community, which has been especially hit hard.
“This task force will focus on speaking to them in their own language.”
Gwinnett’s incidence rate, by comparison, was 254.85 cases per 100,000 residents on Monday night. That is also up — although not nearly as much as Hall’s increase — from May 5, when Gwinnett’s incidence rate was 215.93 cases for every 100,000 residents.
Gwinnett has had 2,475 cases of COVID-19 reported so far, but it’s population of about 971,145 people is significantly larger than Hall’s population.
Hall and Gwinnett are in different health districts, but they are neighboring counties, which means Gwinnett has a COVID-19 hot spot emerging just over its shoulder.
Arona expressed hope that health officials in Hall County will be able to contain that hot spot so it does not travel south along Interstate 985, Buford Highway, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and other major north-south routes into Gwinnett.
“I think the health director in that area and the local people are doing a wonderful job on tackling the increased numbers that they’ve seen there, just like Albany did with the outbreaks that they’ve had there,” Arona said. “I have every confidence that they’ll be able to (contain) transmission to that county and also expand testing like we’re doing here.”
The Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments has held large scale testing events at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth and the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, as well as daily testing, by appointment, in Lawrenceville and Covington. They are looking at increasing the number of daily testing appointments, and possibly adding another daily testing site in the Norcross area.
Don’t forget safety guidelines as businesses reopen
Arona said health officials don’t want residents to start feeling comfortable enough to become lax in measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As businesses begin to reopen and residents begin venturing out to do shopping and other activities, Gwinnett’s health director stressed it is important for the community to not let its guard down.
Health officials continue to preach adherence to guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That includes practicing social distancing, frequent hand washing, using disinfectants to clean surfaces and people staying home if they feel sick.
“We’ve taught our children over and over that a good work ethic is you work when you’re sick and don’t be a baby, but nowadays, if you don’t feel well, stay home,” Arona said. “That’s the big message. Stay home if you don’t feel well. Don’t spread this because not everyone has all the classic symptoms.
“Sometimes there are different symptoms and so we’re just asking people to stay home when you’re sick.”
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