The Barrow County School System won’t offer fall sports at its four middle schools this year as the district continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic and a resurgence in infections over the last month in both the county and across the state.
District officials announced the decision Monday — two weeks ahead of the start of the school year, which has been delayed two weeks due to the pandemic. The district also announced crowd limits for its fall sports teams at the high school level.
Al Darby, chief administrative officer for athletics and student affairs for the district, said the decision not to offer middle school sports was based largely on concerns over the district’s ability to adequately sanitize the smaller facilities and equipment on a daily basis.
“We understand this is not going to make everybody happy, but ultimately this is what we felt was best for the safety of those students,” Darby said.
Darby said the district will explore ways to make up the fall sports in the spring and will make a decision by March 1. Ideas being explored include allowing competition between the schools.
The district had not yet made a decision on the middle school winter sports season, which will begin in November.
While a handful of school systems in the state have altered their high school fall sports calendar or canceled the fall sports season all together, the Georgia High School Association is for now moving forward with the seasons and Barrow County plans to participate, Darby said.
“What my explanation has been to people asking why we’re offering high school sports but not middle school, in addition to the issues with facilities, is there’s a population among the high schools where athletics is a real stepping stone for them to college,” Darby said. “And we feel like they should have that opportunity, especially the seniors, to play, whereas we feel like the middle schoolers have a little more time and opportunity to wait until things get better.”
Still, the district is planning to significantly scale back attendance at the high school sporting events and will start out limiting attendance to two spectators per participant (home and away teams) in the various events. The individual programs are coordinating season-pass distributions.
“The idea is to try to ensure that parents, guardians and loved ones get the chance to see their athletes compete, and then we’ll try to allow more people from there,” said Darby, adding that the district aims to stay within the 25- to 30-percent capacity range for events, particularly football games at the stadiums and volleyball and competitive cheerleading contests in the gymnasiums. “At least with softball and cross country, you’ve got a little more opportunity to spread out.”
Darby said the schools are working on live-streaming football games, which typically draw much higher attendance than the other sports. He said masks will be strongly recommended at games and the district is also exploring spectator-screening measures such as asking questions and doing temperature checks at the admission gate.
Spectators at the Apalachee and Winder-Barrow home football games will be spread out, Darby said, adding that the bands will be placed on the tracks to create more room in the stands. The district also will not have visiting high school bands at the AHS and WBHS home games and will not send its bands to away games.
“That’ll result in some savings during the economic crisis, but the main overriding issue here is safety,” Darby said, citing the logistics of having multiple school buses traveling with multiple band members and chaperones crowded on them.
The district does plan to send the football teams’ cheerleaders to away games, Darby said.
Even as plans move ahead for the start of the fall sports season — the softball and volleyball seasons in Barrow County were scheduled to begin this week — concerns are lingering whether the seasons will be completed, if they get off the ground at all. And numerous public health experts have expressed reservations about close-contact sports such as football being played while infection levels are still high and showing no signs of substantially slowing.
The Georgia High School Association announced in late July that the start of the football regular season would be delayed two weeks to Sept. 4, while the other fall sports remained on schedule. But there was a chance that decision could be reassessed Wednesday, when GHSA executive director Robin Hines and his board and medical advisors were scheduled to meet with Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s public health commissioner who reportedly has voiced reservations specifically about football and competitive cheerleading taking place this fall.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week that there had been more than 650 positive coronavirus cases among athletes and coaches reported across the state since schools were allowed to resume activities in early June. And while that’s a very small percentage of the overall student-athlete count across the state, those totals were before Aug. 1, when football teams were allowed to begin padded, full-contact practices.
Barrow County had no positive tests for COVID-19 among its student-athletes and coaches from July 14-31, Darby said, adding that 13 players and coaches had self-reported possible symptoms but none had tested positive. Five athletes and coaches tested positive between the start of summer conditioning in early June and mid-July and have since recovered, he said.
Darby said that Barrow County continues to report any cases to the GHSA (though it is not technically mandated) and that the district level will assess the overall state of the athletic programs every two weeks as relates to the number of positive tests.
“I think there is some extreme anxiety out there about the season and the rise in cases around us,” Darby said. “But I’m really proud of what our athletic trainers have been able to put in place with the safety measures and the thoroughness of the screenings. We’ve gotten the greenlight (from the GHSA) so we are planning to start the games. I’m optimistic that we can get the seasons in if we can get control of the spike.
“I think the overall thinking is positive. But everything remains day-to-day.”
A Barrow County teenager’s family said Monday she is facing a long road to recovery after she was brutally attacked by two dogs from a neighbor’s house on Friday, July 31.
Joslyn Stinchcomb, 15, a rising ninth-grader at Winder-Barrow High School, was walking through her neighborhood off Bowman Mill Road NE in Winder around 4:30 p.m. when two pit bulls jumped on her, tearing off her scalp and left ear and severely damaging her trachea, according to Facebook posts from her family members. Both dogs have since been euthanized and the owner, Alex Torregrossa, was arrested and charged with reckless conduct and has since been released on bond, Sheriff Jud Smith said.
Smith said the dogs had apparently escaped through a rear door that had been left open. There had been no other previously-known incidents of violent behavior by the dogs. Torregrossa was not at home at the time of the incident, Smith said.
Torregrossa was also cited by Barrow County Animal Control with two counts each of having animals at large without a leash and biting and attacking, and for not having one dog's shots up to date.
Both dogs' bodies were sent off for rabies tests as part of standard operating procedure, though it is not believed either dog had rabies, Smith said.
After the attack, Stinchcomb was flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where she underwent emergency surgery to repair her trachea. She also had her ear reattached, but doctors are unsure if it will be viable, according to the family, adding that she was on a ventilator following the surgery.
“We don’t know the extent of this damage at this time. We have been told that this may affect her smile, her blinking and other facial expressions,” a family member posted over the weekend. “She has multiple other lacerations, bruises, scrapes and such all over her body. She also has asphalt in the tips of her fingers where it appears she tried to claw her way away from those dogs.
“…There is still so much that we don’t know about her injuries, but we know that God knows and that can heal her! We are continued to be overwhelmed by the love, support and prayers that we are receiving.”
On Monday, Stinchcomb’s grandmother wrote that she would be undergoing another surgery Tuesday to try repair a damaged nerve on the left side of her face. A team from Emory University Hospital was also scheduled to assess whether they can repair her damaged vocal cords so she will be able to speak and “with prayer, maybe even sing again,” her grandmother wrote.
“She’s going to have many surgeries before this even starts to be over,” her grandmother wrote. “It's going to be a long, hard process for her physically and then they will have to help her with the mental and emotional aspects of all the physical and lifestyle changes she will have to endure. The doctor just told me that they feel it best to keep her mostly asleep until she is through with the next few surgeries. They couldn't tell me exactly how long that will be.
“We appreciate all the prayers and concerns for our girl and will try to update as much as we can! Please keep praying for a miracle!”
An online fundraiser for the family has been set up at https://www.paypal.com/pools/c/8rm0RZItmD.
To follow updates on Stinchcomb’s condition, go to the Facebook group “Prayers and updates for Joslyn.”
The Georgia Municipal Association is urging people to participate in the 2020 Census.
As of Aug. 2, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data, Barrow County had a self-response rate of 68 percent, which exceeds the national rate of 62.9 percent and statewide rate of 58.7 percent in Georgia.
The cities of Auburn (68.8 percent), Winder (64.8 percent) were also above both marks while Statham was at 61.5 percent. Bethlehem was at 58.4 percent and Carl at 48.4 percent.
The GMA has an ongoing participation “challenge” among its members through Aug. 28 and plans to recognize cities with the highest increase in participation rate by featuring them in its print and digital media platforms.
“The importance of obtaining an accurate count for the 2020 Census cannot be overstated, as it will determine your city’s federal funding for the next 10 years,” said Holger Loewendorf, GMA research manager, in a news release. “Do your part to make sure everyone counts.”
In addition to responding by phone and mail, people can quickly fill out the Census form online at www.2020census.gov.
The push from the GMA comes as the bureau has announced it will end all counting efforts, including door-to-door knocking on Sept. 30, a month earlier than the initial Oct. 31 deadline it established at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.
The decision has prompted concerns about the overall accuracy of the count and how that might affect federal funding levels and political representation for states and communities, especially those with higher numbers of historically-undercounted subgroups. A reported released by the bureau after the 2010 Census that the black population was undercounted by 2.1 percent while renters were undercounted by 1.1 percent.
The bureau has announced a nationwide ramping-up of its door-to-door knocking efforts for unresponsive households will begin Aug. 11.
Barrow County’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases continued to mount over the past week with an average of about 25 cases being reported each day.
As of the Georgia Department of Public Health’s daily 3 p.m. update Tuesday, there had been 1,152 confirmed cases among Barrow County since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic — 173 cases since July 28 with well over half and close to two-thirds of the cases coming since late June. The death toll among county remained unchanged over the past week at 32.
Northeast Georgia Health System reported Tuesday morning that it was treating 150 patients who were positive for COVID-19 across its hospitals and facilities — including three at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Barrow and 35 at NGMC Braselton while another 65 patients were awaiting test results. Those figures were down slightly from last week, when the system reached 176 positive patients on Friday, July 31, including six at NGMC Barrow and 46 at NGMC Braselton.
However, while the system reported another 144 patients being discharged, 23 additional deaths were also reported between July 28 and Aug. 4.
Statewide, there had been 197,948 confirmed cases and 3,921 deaths as of 3 p.m. Tuesday with 2,573 cases and 81 deaths confirmed Tuesday. More than 22,000 new cases and nearly 400 deaths have been reported in the past week in Georgia.
Gov. Brian Kemp on Friday extended restrictions that were already in place for another two weeks through Aug. 15. However, despite repeated calls to toughen those measures or roll back eased restrictions to stem the spread, his latest executive order still bans localities from adopting public mask-wearing mandates. Kemp has sued Atlanta for its mask mandate, but the city and several other local governments around the state have continued to keep their mandates in effect.