As the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) continues to spread across the world and the United States and increases its presence in Georgia, representatives from Barrow County’s emergency agencies are meeting to discuss the latest developments.
The county’s Local Emergency Planning Committee scheduled a special-called meeting for Wednesday, March 11, at the Barrow County School System’s CFIT building (former Russell Middle School) in Winder. The purpose of the meeting is to receive informational updates from various agencies on the virus, according to Barrow County emergency management director Penny Clack.
On Tuesday night, March 10, the Georgia Department of Public Health announced that there are six confirmed cases of COVID-19 (three in Fulton County and one each in Floyd, Polk and Cobb counties) and 16 more presumptive positive cases (six in Cobb County; three in Fulton; two each DeKalb and Gwinnett counties; and one each in Fayette, Cherokee and Charlton counties).
As of Monday night, March 9, the death toll was approaching 4,000 worldwide with the mortality rate around 3 percent. Out of more than 650 confirmed cases in the U.S. across roughly three dozen states, there were 26 reported deaths as of Monday night. The virus has rocked the world economy and prompted some school closures, including Fulton County Schools on Tuesday, March 10, and the cancellation of various large-crowd events.
Also on Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County was being prepared as a potential location for the isolation and monitoring of patients who may have been exposed to the virus. The first patient, from Cherokee was transported there Tuesday, Kemp's office said. The isolated site at the park is being monitored 24 hours a day and is closed to the general public, according to a news release.
State health officials reiterated Monday that the overall risk of COVID-19 to the general public remains low, although elderly people and those with chronic medical conditions may have an increased risk.
The Department of Public Health recommends these preventative measures:
•Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
•Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
•Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
•Stay home when you are sick.
•Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
•Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Those who have traveled to areas where there are ongoing outbreaks of the virus and develop a fever with cough and shortness of breath within 14 days of traveling as well as those who have had contact with someone suspected to have the virus are advised to stay home and call their health care provider or local health department immediately.
“Be sure to call before going to a doctor’s office, emergency room, or urgent care center and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms,” officials said in a news release.
Those who are considered more at risk are encouraged by the CDC to stock up on essential supplies, food and medication and avoid crowds as much as possible.
For up-to-date information on the virus, go to https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
Debi Bradley gives a long hug and a pat on the back to a young man as he walks out the door.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, right?” Bradley asks him. “Yes ma’am,” he replies with a smile.
The man has a drug addiction. He is one of many across Barrow County, the state and the country affected by the ongoing opioid epidemic that has severely damaged families and destroyed the lives of people across all races and economic statuses. And he is one of many who wanted to get better and is starting the recovery process through the Genesis Center of Winder, a drug addiction rehabilitation clinic Bradley and her husband Terry opened at 206 East Broad St., about five minutes away from their home, just under two months ago.
The medication-assisted treatment clinic provides Methadone and other heavily-regulated narcotic treatments to people with addiction to help stabilize them and get them back on their feet while also providing counseling services to help them turn their lives around and even heal their families.
When the Bradleys spoke with the Barrow News-Journal in late February, the clinic had received 20 people who had been transferred from area facilities and taken in 18 others — heroin users — directly off the streets of Barrow County.
“That’s 18 people who aren’t driving around with needles in their cars, getting pulled over by the police and going to jail,” Terry said. “This is a place to come and get help. Our whole philosophy here is, if you have an addiction problem and want help, just come in the door; that’s what we’re here for.
“A lot of people want help; they just don’t know how to go get it. Now there’s a place here for them to go.”
“For an addict to walk in this door, that’s the hardest part, so we work very hard to make sure that when they walk in here, it’s a warm, welcoming place with no judgment,” Debi added.
For the Bradleys, helping people with addiction problems isn’t simply a labor of love; it’s a passion born out of a wrenching personal experience. Both of their adult children have overcome addictions that led the couple to give up their previous careers in the pursuit of helping others.
“We had the lily-white family where both of them went to a private Christian school and everything was perfect and good; and then all of a sudden, like most families, it wasn’t,” said Debi, who left her job as a successful real estate broker and went back to school at 55 to try to do her part toward addressing the opioid crisis. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science and is now a certified medically-assisted treatment specialist and behavioral therapist.
After working off and on in faith-based recovery centers and Methadone clinics, Debi determined that she and Terry could operate one more effectively in Barrow County, where the rate of opioid-related deaths (12.37 percent per 100,000 people) was higher than the state’s (8.75 percent per 100,000 people), according to 2018 statistics from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
“We talked to the sheriff’s office to see if the community could get behind it, and they said absolutely this place was something Barrow County needs,” Terry said.
While similar facilities usually take 18 months to open after going through regulations with state and federal agencies, Debi said the Bradleys were able to push for their clinic to be opened in a year.
“At the end of the day, we are handling synthetic narcotics, so there’s nothing we do that’s not heavily-regulated,” Debi said.
And the opening of their doors was also made possible, Debi said, through significant contributions from lifelong Barrow County resident Clyde Canup, a family friend whom the center is dedicated to.
The clinic is now seeing a steady stream of people, some from referrals and some who have come in through word-of-mouth on the streets, Debi said.
“Everything is laced with something these days,” Debi said, relaying the story of how her friend’s 25-year-old son died from taking a single Xanax pill laced with fentanyl. “We’re losing a generation. I see the stories every day. It’s insane, and I don’t fully understand how it got this way. It’s scary out there. It’s not safe.
“This is a safe place to come. If they come in here and take the medication we have, they’re not going to die out there. So that’s huge.”
The Bradleys wanted the center, located along a main road into town and almost directly across the street from the Barrow County Sheriff’s Office headquarters, to be highly visible.
“We don’t want to be one of those places with no signage on a street with no lights,” Debi said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Debi said that when she first started on her venture of a new career path, she had a negative opinion of Methadone treatment and had to overcome the stigma surrounding it. Now she wants others to do the same.
“There are a lot of myths about Methadone, about how it’s just a substitute for something else,” she said. “But it has been around a long time and it really does work. It takes the cravings and withdrawal symptoms away and brings people back. There’s no difference between someone who has an addiction and is sick and someone who has diabetes and has to take insulin. Once you take opiates for a long time, your brain doesn’t function properly. These medications make the brain fire right again.
“If we’re doing it right, there’s no one walking out of our clinic high. That’s not what our purpose is.”
The clinic has hours from 5:30-11 a.m. so patients can come in daily and take medication to help them function throughout the day. The daily fee is $10 but there are no intake or transfer fees.
“We’re not going to turn down anyone who walks through that door seeking help,” Terry said. Debi said that when patients come in, they undergo a comprehensive assessment. They are drug-tested, referred to doctors if necessary and counseled and then put on a customized treatment plan. The staff includes a doctor, two pharmacists, counselors and other support staffers.
“We’re here to help people in every aspect,” Debi said. “We help them try to find a job, put their families back together. We have art therapy and group meetings. There’s always something going on here.”
The Bradleys describe the Genesis Center’s mission to be a “port in the storm,” helping people with addiction along the way through their journey of recovery.
“Most of the people who work here have either been in addiction and are in recovery long-term, or they have a family member that is. That’s vital. I don’t see how you can possibly counsel something you haven’t been through on some level. We’ve walked in those shoes and we get it.”
At the end of the conversation, a young woman and Genesis staffer walks in the room. She also is dedicated to erasing the stigma of Methodone clinics and talks about how she led the charge in designing the waiting room, saying she wanted to give it a clean, warm and inviting appearance like any typical doctor’s office.
She is Christine Bradley, a recovering addict and the daughter of Terry and Debi. She said that after four failed attempts through traditional rehab centers, she is clean and sober and is working toward becoming a certified addiction counselor.
“You can feel comfortable in here and you have nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
In a letter written to the News-Journal, Christine describes her six-year battle with an opiate addiction that consumed her.
“I was slowly killing myself and completely numb to the pain I was causing to the people around me that loved and cared about me,” she wrote. “…My addiction and pride wouldn’t let me be honest with myself or with anyone else around me. I didn’t want to admit that I was an addict because I didn’t want to cause my parents the same pain they went through with my brother.”
Christine also thanked her parents for being “more relentless than my addiction” and not giving up on her.
“Through the strength of my parents, I was able to find the strength inside of myself to let my past go,” she said. “I spent six years letting my addiction take and take and take. So now it is my turn to give back.
“I turned hopeless into fearless and I am the one that got away.”
There will be no locally-contested races in Barrow County in the May primary or in the November general election, while Winder resident Dawn Johnson is set to once again challenge Republican state Sen. Frank Ginn in the fall.
Candidate qualifying was held last week in Barrow and produced no primary or general election challengers.
Republican incumbent county commissioners Pat Graham (chairman), Joe Goodman (District 1) and Bill Brown (District 2) all qualified for re-election, while incumbent Rolando Alvarez (District 3) qualified as a Republican. Alvarez, who was formerly a Republican board of education member, won the nonpartisan special election last year to replace the late commissioner Roger Wehunt, who had resigned in October 2018 due to health reasons. None of the four commissioners will have primary or general election opposition.
Republican incumbent school board members Lynn Stevens (District 5) and Rickey Bailey (District 6) qualified, while incumbent Jordan Raper (District 8 at-large) also qualified as a Republican. Raper was appointed to the board in 2018 to replace Alvarez when he resigned to run for the BOC. Vince Caine, a member of the Barrow County Planning Commission, qualified as a Republican for the District 2 seat currently held by Garey Huff. Huff chose not to seek re-election.
Also locally, Republican incumbents Jud Smith (sheriff), Tammy Brown (Probate Court judge) and Caroline Power Evans (chief magistrate) qualified without any opposition.
Three more Republicans will be replacing retiring officeholders. Jessica Garrett qualified to replace outgoing tax commissioner Melinda Williams, while Janie Jones qualified to replace outgoing clerk of Superior Court Regina McIntyre and Kenneth Cooper qualified for coroner to replace David Crosby.
Crosby, who is finishing his 20th year as coroner initially qualified last week but withdrew his name Friday, March 6, after Cooper qualified.
“I’ve been wanting to retire, but no one ever runs for it so I put my name in just in case,” Crosby said Friday. “(Cooper) is a good guy, a friend of mine, who’s been in the funeral home business for years and years. I think he’s going to be a good coroner, and the transition will be just fine. We’re going to go ahead and start training him to hopefully make the transition in January as smooth as possible. I’ve had a lot of good support. It’s been a good ride.”
In the Piedmont Judicial Circuit, which includes Barrow, Jackson and Banks counties, Superior Court Judge Currie Mingledorff and District Attorney Brad Smith, both Republicans, qualified for re-election without opposition.
No Democrats or independents qualified for the local races.
At the state level, Johnson, the 2018 Democratic nominee against Ginn, qualified again to challenge the Danielsville Republican who is seeking a sixth term after first being elected in 2010. District 47 covers all of Barrow County.
In state House District 117, which covers a portion of eastern Barrow County (including most of Statham), Democrat Mokah Johnson of Athens qualified to challenge Republican incumbent Houston Gaines of Athens. District 116 incumbent Terry England (R-Auburn), who represents most of Barrow County, and District 114 incumbent Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), who represents a small portion of western Barrow, also qualified for re-election without opposition.
At the federal level, incumbent U.S. Rep. Jody Hice has qualified for re-election to the 10th Congressional District seat, which covers all of Barrow. Tabitha Johnson Green, the 2018 Democratic nominee against Hice, and Andrew Ferguson qualified for the May Democratic primary. Clyde Elrod of Braselton and Alvin Spitzner had also announced their intentions to run for the seat as Democrats but said last week they were not able to raise enough money to get their name on the ballot.
Democratic voters in the May primary will also choose between seven candidates vying to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. David Perdue in November.
And in the November general election when voters decide on president and other races, they will also vote in a “jungle primary” for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Kelly Loeffler, who was appointed late last year to replace Johnny Isakson when he retired. A total of 21 candidates qualified for that special election — six Republicans, including Loeffler and Congressman Doug Collins; eight Democrats; one Libertarian; one Green Party candidate; four independents and one write-in.
The deadline to register for the May 19 primary is April 20. Early voting will be April 27 through May 15.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating the March 1 death of an Auburn woman who was arrested the previous day and died hours after being released from a local hospital.
Amanda Cerdes, 29, was pronounced dead at the hospital around 11:20 a.m., around seven hours after she was initially brought in following her arrest by the Auburn Police Department.
Cerdes was arrested just after 10:30 p.m. Feb. 29 and was charged with possession of a Schedule I Controlled Substance, tampering with evidence and willful obstruction of law enforcement officers.
“Due to her actions and behavior,” she was taken to the hospital, released from there near 4 a.m. and booked into the Barrow County Detention Center, said GBI public affairs director Nelly Miles, adding that Cerdes remained in an “agitated” state and was restrained “in order to prevent injury to herself or others within the facility.”
Just before 10:45 a.m., Cerdes was found in “physical distress” and jail personnel began performing emergency response measures on her.
The GBI’s office in Athens was requested to investigate the matter by the sheriff’s office. An autopsy was performed March 4 at the GBI Crime Lab and those results are pending further testing, Miles said.
A woman found dead at a house in Statham is believed to have been struck by a vehicle driven by her boyfriend following an altercation, though it is not certain that the injury caused the death, Barrow County Sheriff Jud Smith said Monday, March 9.
Just after 8 a.m. Sunday, March 8, deputies were called to 88 Goldshore Way, where they found a white female dead in the home. A neighbor alerted authorities after finding a trail of blood from the road, to the driveway, to the front door, according to a sheriff’s office news release.
Smith said the woman’s boyfriend is in custody as a person of interest and has pending charges of reckless driving and causing serious injury by vehicle. The man is being cooperative, Smith said, adding his and the woman’s identities are being withheld, pending results from a GBI crime lab investigation. Smith said he was expecting those results Monday or Tuesday, March 10. At that time, additional charges will be determined, Smith said.
Smith said investigators believe the man and woman got into a verbal and possible future altercation prior to him hitting her with the vehicle, and the sheriff's office is still awaiting the lab results to determine the cause of death.
Investigators are also still trying to determine whether the woman made it back inside the house on her own or was placed there and are reviewing camera footage and canvassing the neighborhood.
The GBI and the Statham Police Department have been assisting in the investigation.
Check back for updates and see more in the March 11 edition of the Barrow News-Journal.