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NGHS sees new COVID peak, braces for surge in testing

Northeast Georgia Health System has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past couple of weeks. The hospital system reached a new peak in COVID cases last week and is currently treating over 200 COVID-19 positive patients.

As of Monday, Dec. 7, NGHS is treating 205 COVID patients at its hospitals and long-term care facilities. Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton is treating 53 of those.

The numbers are up from the previous week (Monday, Nov. 30), when NGHS was treating 176 positive patients with 46 at NGMC Braselton.

There’s been a huge uptick in recent weeks. During the first week of November (Monday, Nov. 2), NGHS was treating 81 COVID patients with 20 at NGMC Braselton.

There are currently 42 patients waiting for test results.

Across the hospital system, 655 beds are occupied with 45 available. At NGMC Braselton, there are 165 occupied beds with three available (22 occupied ICU beds with 2 available).

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the hospital system has discharged 3,236 patients.

There have been 454 deaths.


According to hospital leaders, the numbers of those needing testing and care are expected to continue rising in the coming days and weeks.

“Both the percentage of tests coming back positive and the number of people who need to be admitted to the hospital have been steadily climbing all month – to today’s record high for the system,” said Clifton Hastings, MD, Chief of Medical Staff for Northeast Georgia Medical System. “We’re headed for a new peak and the only question is, how high will this peak be?”

NGHS also anticipates an increase in the number of people seeking COVID-19 testing in the coming weeks.

“Not only are more people seeking the test because they’re ill, but we expect many will want to get tested so they’ll know whether it’s safe to see family during the holidays,” said Bobby Norris, vice president of operations for Northeast Georgia Physicians Group. “We absolutely want people who think they’re sick to get tested so they can take precautions to protect others, but we also want to avoid premature testing that gives people a false sense of security.”

While they are more readily available now than they were at the onset of the pandemic, testing supplies are still limited, and for most, there is a two- to three-day wait for test results. To help you navigate COVID-19 testing successfully, NGHS recently released the following information:

• When and where should I get tested if I have been exposed? The incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days, and most patients show symptoms between five and seven days after exposure. It is best to wait 7-10 days after exposure – or earlier if symptoms appear – to be tested. Remember, if you’ve been exposed, you should quarantine following CDC guidelines. To find a testing location near you, visit www.nghs.com/covid-19/testing.

• Am I eligible for the rapid test? Symptomatic first responders, healthcare workers and some high-risk patients may get a rapid test depending on availability.

• How long will it take to get my results back? Rapid tests are processed in a matter of hours. All other COVID-19 tests are sent out for processing and returned within two to three business days when the labs can keep up with demand. We have seen surges in testing that caused additional delays at area labs because there were simply too many tests to keep up – and that kind of surge may be possible if the numbers of cases in our community continue to rise.

• Should I get a test before seeing family for the holidays? If you can find a location with enough supplies to accommodate testing for an asymptomatic patient, it’s important to remember: The test takes two to three business days to process. You may still be exposed to or come down with the virus at any time after testing. That’s why it’s still important to take precautions and plan lower risk activities like small events for just your household or virtual gatherings so you can visit with loved ones remotely.

“We know people are tired of hearing about wearing masks, washing hands and watching their distance,” said Dr. Hastings. “Trust me, our nurses, doctors and other staff are tired, too. But those are the only actions that can limit the spread of the virus. The entire spirit of the holidays is to think about others first and doing whatever you can to help them, so I hope everyone really takes that to heart and protects the people they love the most.”


All four counties in the Braselton area have had a higher average than the state in new cases over the past two weeks (per 100,000 residents).

Jackson County remained the hardest hit over the past two weeks.

Schools in the Jackson County School System are closing in-school classes as of Wednesday, Dec. 9. The system is moving to its on-line class model due to an uptick in Coronavirus cases hitting the system.

In a memo to parents, superintendent April Howard said the community spread rate is "dangerously high" and that the system had suffered with high numbers of staff absences.

Hall County was the second hardest hit over the past two weeks.

Details include:

•Georgia: 448,683 cases; 9,007 confirmed deaths; 844 probable deaths; 42,925 new cases over the past two weeks (396 per 100,000 residents)

•Barrow: 3,483 cases; 59 confirmed deaths; 435 new cases over the past two weeks (504 per 100,000 residents)

•Gwinnett: 39,375 cases; 513 confirmed deaths; 37 probable deaths; 4,209 new cases over the past two weeks (433 per 100,000 residents)

•Hall: 13,329 cases; 199 confirmed deaths; nine probable deaths; 1,349 new cases over the past two weeks (654 per 100,000 residents)

•Jackson: 3,499 cases; 53 confirmed deaths; seven probable deaths; 505 new cases over the past two weeks (676 per 100,000 residents)

New Hoschton park being planned

Plans for a new historical-focused park in Hoschton are reported to be in the works, but hit a bump on Dec. 7 when the town's planning board tabled a variance request related to the deal.

According to city officials, Mayor Shannon Sell has been negotiating a potential land-swap with property owner Eddie Butler to get a tract of land for a new city park.

Reportedly, the city is looking at locating the Darby building and two other historic buildings in the park as a historical focal point.

To make the park project happen, the city wants to swap some land it owns on Oak St. with property Butler owns as part of the deal. Butler would then develop the Oak St. property for residential use.

But for Butler to use the city's Oak St. property from the swap for development, it would require the city to have a variance for a stream buffer reduction from 50 feet to 25 feet and to get an impervious surface setback waived.

Planning board chairman Scott Butler said he supports the idea of a city park with a historical focus, but said he was worried about the impact Butler's development might have on flooding further downstream.

After a lengthy discussion on the matter, the board voted to table action on the variance request until January and have Butler come to that meeting to explain how he wants to develop the property.


In other business, the board approved a preliminary plant for 300 townhouses off of Town Center Parkway. The project got initial approval in October 2018 and was expanded in April 2019. Rockwood Homes is preparing to build the townhouses.

The planning board approved the plat with several conditions, including a requirement that developers pay 50% of the project's sewer connection fees up front. 

The board also approved:

• two variances for property owned by the Jackson County Board of Education for city water tower sites.

• a variance for property owned by Keith Hayes Construction for a water tower site.

• a rezoning for Eddie Butler on property along New Street from R-2 to R-3 for two single-family homes.

Elections board tables action on school referendum plans

Plans for a March referendum to continue the ESPLOST in Jackson County's three school districts got put on hold Dec. 2 when the county's board of elections refused to call for the March voting.

The Jackson County Board of Elections voted 4-1, with board member James White dissenting, to table action until January on calling for the referendum.

Board of election actions to call for a vote is generally routine and not controversial. It is the first time the board has ever not approved a call for an election when asked by a local government to do so.

The move leaves leaders in the county's three school districts hanging, uncertain about what will happen next.

The voting for a joint school referendum is complex in the county since there are three independent school systems. The ESPLOST vote has to be held in each district and has to pass in each of the three districts.  It means, in part, that both the City of Jefferson and City of Commerce have to hold elections in coordination with the county.

The elections board tabled action on calling for the vote due to what it said was a technical issue with the document and because the board only received a copy of the referendum just before its 8:30 a.m. board meeting.

The Jackson County Board of Education held a called meeting earlier that morning at 7 a.m. to call for the SPLOST referendum. Both the Jefferson City BOE and Commerce City BOE are expected to make their votes later this month at their regular board meetings.

While the elections board delayed action on calling for the March voting, it only did so after Republican board member Larry Ewing voiced opposition to the matter, saying the vote should have been held with November's General Election.

"They want their own special election and I need to understand that," he said.

Elections board chairman Eric Crawford suggested that the March special election call is a strategic move by the school systems to help get the measure passed.

"If I were a school board and I wanted something passed, I'd make sure there was an election with a very low turnout where my people who want it come to the polls," Crawford said.

Ewing also complained about the cost of the county having to hold a special election when it could have been done with an existing vote process.

"They don't care what it cost to run an election," he said.

He also complained about the SPLOST idea in general.

"We've closed down three or four schools and we want more money to build more," he said. "We want our own special election to do that. I have a problem with that, a serious problem."

Jackson County School System superintendent April Howard said the SPLOST funds are needed to help pay for infrastructure in the growing school system.

"SPLOST is the primary revenue source for the construction of new schools and debt service," she said. "Without SPLOST, any new facilities, additions, and improvements become the burden of the local property owners through property tax collections."

Both the county and Jefferson school systems have pressing needs for new schools and expansions due to population growth. Both systems have held meetings recently to begin the process of those projects.


In other business, the elections board voted 4-1 to certify the county's Nov. 3 elections results.

Board member Jeff Hughes, a Republican representative on the board was the lone dissenting vote.

During a discussion preceding the vote, Hughes asked a number of questions about the elections process and how signatures are matched to absentee ballots.

Nationally, some Republicans have alleged fraud in the election after President Donald Trump was defeated.

Trump carried Jackson County with around 79% of the vote.

Hughes didn't criticize the county elections process and praised local elections officials for their work.

He didn't give a reason for not voting to certify the county's election results, something that is typically a routine matter.


In other business, county elections manager Jennifer Logan gave an update about the plans for the upcoming Jan. 5 runoff for two U.S. Senate seats and a PSC seat in the state. She said her office had received a number of absentee ballot requests so far.

Logan also said her office is working on a backup plan for Jan. 5 in case an ice storm or other bad weather makes opening polls difficult.

Braselton plans 'online community meeting' for comp plan update

Braselton is in the process of updating its comprehensive plan.

Those wishing to comment on the update may do so online through Dec. 18.

To learn more or comment on the comprehensive plan, visit the town's "online community meeting" at www.braseltondevelopmentcodeupdate.com.

Early voting opens Dec. 14 for runoff election

Even as the fallout from the Nov. 3 presidential election in Georgia continues to swirl, local election officials are gearing up for a high-profile runoff election slated for Jan. 5.

There are three races on the Jan. 5 ballot: Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff; incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock; and incumbent Republican PSC member Lauren "Bubba" McDonald faces Democrat Daniel Blackman.

Early voting opens next week for the runoff election. Voting locations depend on which county you live in.

Find your voting information, registration status or request an absentee ballot by visiting www.mvp.sos.ga.gov

Early voting for the Braselton four-county area include:


In-person advance voting will be held Dec. 14-31, Mondays through Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the county elections office, 233 East Broad St., Winder. There will be no Saturday voting, and the elections office will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Dec. 24-25, and New Year’s Day, Jan. 1.


Eligible voters may vote advance in person every day, including weekends, from December 14-31 at the following locations. (There is no voting on December 24 and 25.)

  • Gwinnett Voter Registrations & Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building, 455 Grayson Hwy., Suite 200, Lawrenceville, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Bogan Park Community Recreation Center, 2723 North Bogan Rd., Buford, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Lenora Park Gym, 4515 Lenora Church Rd., Snellville, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Dacula Park Activity Building, 2735 Old Auburn Rd., Dacula, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Lucky Shoals Park Community Recreation Center, 4651 Britt Rd., Norcross, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • George Pierce Park Community Recreation Center, 55 Buford Hwy., Suwanee, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Pkwy., Lawrenceville, GA 30045 7:00am to 7:00pm
  • Mountain Park Activity Building, 1063 Rockbridge Rd., Stone Mountain, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Shorty Howell Park Activity Building, 2750 Pleasant Hill Rd., Duluth, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.


The Hall County Elections Board recently approved plans to hold early voting for three weeks beginning Dec. 14.

Ballots may be cast weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at any of the following locations:

  • City of Gainesville Downtown Building (old Turner, Wood and Smith Building) - 100 Brenau Ave., Gainesville.
  • East Hall Community Center - 3911 P. Davidson Rd., Gainesville.
  • North Hall Community Center - 4175 Nopone Rd., Gainesville.
  • Spout Springs Library - 6488 Spout Springs Rd., Flowery Branch.

There will be no voting on Dec. 24, Dec. 25 or Jan. 1 in observance of the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The last day to vote early, in-person will be Thursday, Dec. 31.

“Due to the ongoing pandemic, we will continue to adhere to the health safety guidelines outlined by the CDC, State of Georgia and White House,” said Elections Director Lori Wurtz. “This will include frequent cleaning of voting machines and adherence to social distancing guidelines. Voters are highly encouraged to wear a mask at the precinct.”

Voters returning absentee ballots may utilize the two ballot drop boxes that were previously available during the General Election. One is located at the Hall County Government Center (2875 Browns Bridge Rd., Gainesville, GA 30504) and the other is located at Spout Springs Library (6488 Spout Springs Rd., Flowery Branch, GA 30542).


Early voting in Jackson County will be at the county's election's office on Gordon Street in Jefferson starting Dec. 14.

Early voting will be from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays Dec. 14-18; Dec. 21-23; and Dec. 28-31.

Saturday early voting will be held Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Election day on Jan. 5 will be held at the county's four locations: Central Jackson at Hope Crossing Church in Jefferson; North Jackson at Mt. Olive Church in Commerce; West Jackson at Free Chapel in Braselton; and South Jackson at Southside Church.

Absentee ballots are available now by going to the Georgia Secretary of State website and downloading a request form. Absentee ballots may be mailed to the county elections office, or put in one of the county's three drop boxes: The county elections office at 441 Gordon St.; Nicholson City Hall; or West Jackson Fire Department.

Santa coming to town Dec. 12

Santa Claus is coming to the Town of Braselton on Saturday, Dec. 12.

Accompanied by a parade of lights and sirens from local public safety vehicles, Santa will ride through Braselton neighborhoods starting at 9 a.m., town leaders said. Track Santa’s progress with the trolley tracker at www.braseltontrolley.com.

The Braselton Police Department and West Jackson Fire Department will escort the parade. YearOne Muscle Cars will provide Santa with a convertible.

The parade will start at 9 a.m. downtown and visit the following neighborhoods, in order:

  • Lakeshore
  • Keys Crossing
  • Pinecrest
  • Vineyard/Vineyard Gate
  • Liberty Crossing
  • Preserve
  • Baker’s Farm
  • Broadmoor
  • Sienna
  • The Falls
  • Mulberry Park
  • Riverstone
  • The Gates
  • Chateau Elan
  • Del Webb
  • Clearwater
  • Reflections
  • Liberty Estates