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Opening of schools postponed; 'virtual learning' to begin Tuesday

Banks County students will not be returning to face-to-face instruction on Tuesday, Jan. 5, as had been planned. Instead, "virtual learning" will begin on Tuesday.

"We continue to have a large number of personnel who have tested positive for Covid or must quarantine due to direct exposure," superintendent Ann Hopkins states. "As a result, we will pivot to virtual learning beginning Tuesday, Jan. 5, through Friday, Jan. 8. Teachers will send information regarding schedules and assignments."

Hopkins adds, "We will continue to monitor the data and notify families as soon as possible should we need to extend virtual learning."

The school system will provide meals next week. Information regarding these services will be available on the system website and social media.

"Please continue to take the necessary precautions to keep you and your family safe and healthy," Hopkins states.

Grand opening ceremony marks completion of new fire station in Banks County

A grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Wednesday, December 30, to celebrate Banks County’s newest fire station, Fire and EMS Station No. 25, which will serve the north end of the county and its surrounding communities.

“Fire Station No. 25 will be our full-time station and will give us better and quicker coverage in the Baldwin and Alto area," fire chief Steve Nichols stated. "Our old fire station, three miles down the road, will now serve as a volunteer station."

Charles Turk, chairman of Banks County Board of Commissioners (BOC), said the new station is a big improvement from their old station which they have outgrown.

The newly built 7,200-square foot fire station is complete with sleeping quarters that include six bunk rooms, showers, a meeting room, a kitchen and a second story storage space that stretches the length of the left half of the facility. The fire station will also house room for a ladder truck, two engines and two med units.

Turk said there is also a chance that the facility will operate as a voting precinct for the county.

“We are really proud of this fire station,” said Turk. “I think it’s probably one of the best ones in Georgia for the money. It’s a well-built station in a beautiful location overlooking the mountains.”

Banks County’s new fire station is a redesign of Savannah Fire Department in N.C.

The property was donated by Brian Whittenton of Grace Point Community Center. DCI Metals in Gainesville erected the metal siding panels of the building, Griffin Brothers and S&D Solutions were in charge of grading the property and Kenny Crumley and his support crew are the contractors of the project, which has been several years in the making.

The building was SPLOST-funded and the total cost of the project was $600,000, however, the insurance appraisal assessed the building alone at $1 million.

Turk expressed appreciation to all those who helped make the project a reality and thanked taxpayers for their support in voting in the SPLOST to build the fire station that will help serve and protect the community.

The finishing touch that will be added to Station 25 is an American flag and flagpole donated by The Woodman of the World.

“The flagpole is coming eventually but the Woodmen of the World were not able to donate one at this time because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Turk said.

According to Fire Chief Steve Nichols, the station is expected to be staffed and in full operation in about two weeks although the station’s equipment can still be utilized in the meantime.

COVID-19 vaccine now available to more people

The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to more people following an announcement by state leaders.

Governor Brian Kemp and Commissioner Kathleen Toomey, M.D., M.P.H., announced plans last week to add adults aged 65 and older, law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders to the current group of individuals eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. Healthcare workers and staff and residents of long-term care facilities are already in this highest priority group.

The expanded administration of vaccine is expected to begin within the next two weeks provided there is adequate vaccine supply available.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is following the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for prioritizing the vaccination.

States have the flexibility to tailor these recommendations based on their specific needs and available vaccine.

“Following the expert guidance of Dr. Toomey, the CDC, and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Georgia will move to expand Phase 1a vaccination criteria within the next two weeks to include the elderly, law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders - provided the state continues to receive adequate vaccine supplies,” said Governor Kemp. “We will continue to monitor the administration efforts of our public health workers and partners in the private sector, and the supply chain of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to ensure eligible Georgians are vaccinated without delay.”

“Different areas of the state are completing Phase 1a at different times based on the number of healthcare workers and LTCF residents and staff they have to vaccinate,” said Commissioner Toomey. “This expansion of 1a eligible vaccination criteria will allow vaccine to be administered as quickly as possible to our most at-risk populations in terms of exposure, transmission and severity. It also gives healthcare providers and public health staff time to plan and work with local communities across the state to ensure safe and efficient deployment of limited vaccine supplies.”

Dr. Toomey adds that it is critical that even as vaccine becomes available to more people, all Georgians must continue to wear a mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently. While the COVID-19 vaccine is 95 percent effective in preventing illness in the individual being vaccinated, it is not yet known if the vaccine fully prevents person to person transmission or asymptomatic infections.

For updates on COVID-19, follow @GaDPH and @GovKemp on Twitter and @GaDPH and @GovKemp on Facebook.

For information on getting a vaccine, contact your local health department.