A meeting of Jackson County's key public agencies could be held in the coming weeks to discuss preliminary planning for a potential pandemic involving the Cornavirus known as COVID-19.
Jackson County Emergency Management Agency director Bryan Bullock said that he is trying to set up a meeting with representatives of Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center and local emergency officials (fire, EMS, police, sheriff, schools, hospitals, county and city officials) to discuss the impact the virus might have on the community.
Piedmont Athens Regional hosts the regional healthcare coalition of which Jackson County is a member and would be one of the key players in the event of a viral pandemic.
Meanwhile, a conference call with CDC officials and area medical personnel is slated for Thursday, March 5 to discuss Coronavirus response planning.
Although only two known cases of the virus have been detected in Georgia as of this writing, the COVID-19 virus has slowly been working its way across the country. Cases are now confirmed in Washington state, California, Texas, Chicago, New York, Georgia, Florida and Rhode Island and six deaths were recorded as of March 4 in the U.S.
Some medical officials have predicted that it will only be a matter of time before the virus makes it way throughout the nation, and world, given its highly-contagious profile. While many of those affected by the virus have only mild cases, the estimated death rate of 1-3 percent is high compared to the death rate for the regular flu, which kills thousands of people each year.
Last week, Gov. Brian Kemp created a state-level Coronavirus task force to begin planning for potential problems in Georgia. Bullock said that so far, the state's emergency management agency has not called any meetings of local officials to discuss the potential impact of the virus.
At the national level, the virus is already affecting international flights and disrupting some business supply lines, especially out of China where the virus began. The fear of a prolonged economic downturn due to the virus has tanked stock markets around the world, including here in the U.S.
If the virus does become a pandemic, what would the local response look like?
Every county in Georgia has an emergency operations plan which broadly outlines the response to various types of emergencies, from storm damage to terrorism to medical emergencies.
Under that plan, if there were a widespread virus emergency, this is how the response would broadly be structured:
• The chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Tom Crow, and the mayors from all nine local towns would form a committee that would oversee the community's response. That group would be responsible for declaring local emergencies, providing funding and manpower to meet the needs created by the virus and managing the financial aspects of an emergency response.
• If the virus became a pandemic with a high rate of infection and/or deaths, the county's EMA under director Bullock would set up a command center out of the Fire Training Center on Fowler Dr. From here, the county would manage its response depending on the impact the virus was having.
• Piedmont Athens Regional would be the focus of coordinating the medical response through the Jackson County Health Department, EMS and other local medical facilities.
• If mass care is needed in shelters, the local Department of Family and Children Services would be the lead agency to coordinate that response. The Red Cross would operate local shelters, assisted by the county's three school systems where some of the shelters would be located. (Shelters are generally in schools, churches and civic centers that have space and facilities to accommodate large crowds.)
• In addition to shelters, area points of distribution could also be set up to distribute supplies, medicine and food if needed.
• If transportation of people is needed, school buses from the county's three school systems would be used to move support personnel, patients or others.
• Local law enforcement agencies would provide security at shelters and other locations where needed.
• Other local emergency personnel, such as firemen, would likely provide assistance and support. Those with medical training would be especially valuable.
A Jefferson woman was recently killed and a man critically injured in an apparent murder-suicide attempt.
Stephanie Wade Ellis, 40, of Jefferson, died from injuries sustained in the Feb. 27 incident. Ronald Ellis was taken to the hospital with critical injuries.
According to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, deputies were called to 28 Preakness Trail, Jefferson, around 9:50 p.m. on Feb. 27.
“The caller advised that a male in the home had shot her mother and then shot himself,” according to a news release.
Jackson County EMS transported the man and woman to Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville.
S. Ellis later died from her injuries.
The Jackson County Criminal Investigations Division and The Georgia Bureau of Investigations Crime Scene Unit were called and responded to investigate the shooting and crime scene. The investigation is still active.
A proposed 700-acre development on Chandler Bridge Rd. in South Jackson would be a unique "agrihood" community, developers told a crowd of about 70 people last week.
But the project was met with skepticism by many in the crowd. Among other concerns, the group aired concerns about the impact on traffic in the area and the potential that the development could open the door to further residential growth in the traditionally rural South Jackson area.
The project is scheduled to have its first public hearing in March with a request for a map amendment change before the Jackson County Planning Commission.
The project, tentatively called Cullison Field and Farm Community, is being spearheaded by Ilk Alliance out of Charleston, S.C. The project's concept calls for it to be an "agrihood community," a new trend in developments that incorporates a blend of farming, farm-to-table food and recreation.
If developed, the South Jackson project would be one of the few agrihood communities in the state. A similar agrihood project called "serenbe" has been developed just west of Atlanta near Newnan. Several other similar projects have been done across the nation, mostly in Western states.
While exact details haven't been worked out, a concept plan shown at last week's community meeting held at Center Baptist Church calls for clustering around homes into high-density pods and leaving a significant amount of the 718 acres in greenspace for agriculture and conservation. The plan calls for a 25-acre working farm, neighborhood community gardens, recreation facilities, including an existing 12-acre lake, hiking trails and other amenities.
Peter Pollak, founder of Ilk Alliance, told the crowd that the project would have around 60 percent greenspace. He said that architectural standards for homes in the community would be strict.
"We want to make this a landmark community," he said.
Pollak said housing prices would likely start in the $450,000 range. He suggested that many of the buyers would use the homes as second homes for weekend and summer use.
Pollak has been involved in several unique and expensive developments, including the Ford Plantation Club near Richmond Hill (outside of Savannah) and the Greenbrier (West Virginia) Sporting Club.
Project planning designer Dan Ford of Beau Welling Design in Greenville, S.C. said the concept for the project is for a conservation community that has an "agricultural sense."
"We want to celebrate nature," he said.
Ford said not all of the houses would be the same, but that all would be high-quality. He said that among the details for the community would be to follow guidelines from the Dark Sky Alliance to keep street lighting from causing light pollution in the area.
Ford said developers welcomed input from the community before the final design was completed and suggested another community meeting in the future.
To make the project happen, developers would have to build a wastewater treatment facility on-site. Most of the homes would be clustered on quarter-acre lots, too small for septic systems.
Engineers for the project said the exact design for the wastewater treatment plant hasn't been decided yet, but that it would focus on reusable water. The system would likely be turned over to the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority to operate.
But that concerned some area citizens who see the implementation of a sewerage plant in the area as an opening for high-density development nearby. The plant would be mandated by the county to have at least 20 percent extra capacity, treatment that could possibly be used by other nearby developments.
"When a sewer plant is developed, more development will follow because the development follows the sewer," said Babs McDonald, a citizen-activist with Citizens for South Jackson who has spoken out over the years against development in the area. "...One of the concerns I have is that we are opening the door with this plant for more development in our rural county and we don't want that."
While the precedent being set with this development and its sewerage capacity was a major concern, it wasn't the only one voiced by members of the audience who had come to meet with the developers.
The impact of traffic on Chandler Bridge Rd. and the nearby Jefferson River Rd. were also mentioned a number of times as a major concern.
"(The project) will have a tremendous impact on the community," said one woman in the audience about the traffic.
There was also opposition to the general idea of having a large residential project in the midst of a traditionally rural, agriculture community.
"This land has been agricultural for years," Elyse Giles said in an email to The Jackson Herald. "The surrounding farmers and families have worked this land for years and are second and third generation farmers. To have outsiders come and have this kind of proposal is an insult to those who live her and those who work the land."
Both McDonald and Giles said that the community is opposed to the project.
Early voting opened Monday, March 2, for the March 24 election.
Voters can cast their ballots in the Presidential Preference Primary for both parties and a tax break question for senior citizens in Jackson County, Jefferson and Commerce.
The City of Hoschton is also holding a special election to fill an unexpired city council and mayor seat.
Shannon Sell and Hope Weeks are facing off in the race for mayor. James Lawson and Raphael Mayberry are seeking the empty city council seat (see related stories for more details).
Early voting is being held at the county elections office at 441 Gordon St., Jefferson, on the following dates:
Satellites will also be open in Braselton (Police and Municipal Court Building, 5040 Hwy. 53) from March 16-20 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and in Commerce (Parks and Rec Building, 204 Carson St.) from March 16-20 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On Election Day, March 24, voters will cast their ballots at their county polling location. Polling sites include:
Absentee by mail ballots are available upon request. The request form can be mailed, faxed to 706-367-1193, or emailed to email@example.com.