It’s the best Christmas gift anyone could wish for this year. COVID-19 vaccines have arrived in the Braselton area.
Northeast Georgia Health System received its first batch of vaccinations on Thursday morning, Dec. 17. The hospital system received 5,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and vaccinated its first seven employees on Thursday evening.
“It feels like Christmas came early,” Carol Burrell, NGHS president and CEO, said. “It’s been a long eight months for our organization and our community, as we continue to see record numbers of COVID patients. We still have a long journey ahead of us, but simply having a vaccine in our hands is a tremendous and positive step forward.”
While there’s a sense of excitement and hope surrounding the arrival of the vaccine, hospital leaders stress the need to continue practicing COVID safety precautions, especially during the upcoming Christmas holiday.
“It’s certainly a big, positive milestone, and several of our staff have said they hope it’s the beginning of the end for the pandemic,” said Tara Jernigan, chief nursing officer at NGMC Braselton. “That said, we still have several months to go, and I don’t think there will be a true sense of relief until we start seeing less COVID-positive patients in our hospitals. We really hope people in our community don’t let their guard down during Christmas, because another spike after the holidays could be catastrophic. Please, please – celebrate safely.”
The first employees vaccinated Thursday evening were Rachel Brunner, RN, Critical Care Nurse at NGMC Gainesville and Braselton; Andy Cason, RRT, Respiratory Therapist at NGMC Gainesville; Tamika Johnson, RN, Charge Nurse in the Mobile Medical Unit at NGMC Gainesville; Elizabeth Larkins, MSN, RN, Director of Critical Care at NGMC Gainesville; April McDonald, MD, Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine Physician with Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, practicing at NGMC Gainesville and Braselton; Terry Phillips, Environmental Services Technician at NGMC Gainesville; and Seth Scott, RN, Nurse in the Emergency Department at NGMC Gainesville.
As of Monday, Dec. 21, NGHS has administered nearly 1,000 doses. Hospital leaders hope to have the first batch administered by the end of the month and expect to receive the next Pfizer shipment and first Moderna shipment — which was approved last week — by the end of the month.
“We hope other COVID-19 vaccines developed by different companies and research groups will receive federal approval soon, which would allow us to vaccinate our workforce and people in our community, faster than planned,” said Supriya Mannepalli, MD, NGMC’s medical director of Infectious Disease Medicine, on Dec. 17 (prior to the announcement of the Moderna vaccination approval). “I’m amazed at how quickly our team has worked through detailed logistics to make this possible – just like they have with so many other challenges during the pandemic.”
Vaccinations are being stored at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville in specially-ordered freezers that will maintain the proper storage temperatures.
A vaccination planning committee — representing a range of departments within the hospital system — was formed to prioritize which groups of employees would get vaccinated first. The committee created a phased-in approach based on risk.
“Our top priority groups for receiving the vaccine are our frontline healthcare workers, long term care patients and staff in other high-risk groups,” NGHS leaders said.
NGHS employees are not required to take the vaccination, but those with patient-contact are strongly encouraged to do so.
Safety precautions will remain in place across the hospital system. Hospital leaders noted that those who receive the vaccine won’t be immediately protected, adding that protection will occur around two weeks after the second shot.
And it may still be possible for vaccinated people to transmit the virus to those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“Even though a staff member may have received their vaccine, most of the people around them have not,” hospital leaders said. “We know the vaccine prevents disease in the vaccinated person, but it still may be possible to transmit the disease to others. Wearing a mask, social distancing and practicing hand hygiene protects those who have not been vaccinated.”
Dr. Mannepalli stressed the community should still continue practicing health and safety measures for some time.
“It’s important to remember that vaccination isn’t a magic bullet that will end the pandemic immediately,” says Dr. Mannepalli. “People need to continue following the 3Ws – wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance – even after getting the vaccine, at least until herd immunity is achieved.”
As of Dec. 21, the hospital system was treating 272 positive COVID patients with 54 at NGMC Braselton.
NGHS currently has 694 occupied beds with 47 available. At NGMC Braselton, there are 166 occupied beds with 12 available (23 occupied in ICU with four available).
NGHS reports 512 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
In Braselton's four-county area, there have been:
•Barrow: 4,210 cases; 63 deaths; 700 new cases in the last two weeks (810 per 100,000 residents)
•Gwinnett: 45,864 cases; 539 confirmed deaths; 37 probable deaths; 6,404 new cases in the last two weeks (659 per 100,000 residents)
•Hall: 15,763 cases; 206 confirmed deaths; nine probable deaths; 2,227 new cases in the past two weeks (1,079 per 100,000 residents)
•Jackson: 4,423 cases; 57 confirmed deaths; 10 probable deaths; 882 new cases in the past two weeks (1,181 per 100,000 residents)
Hoschton plans to start up a police department in 2021 and also build a new multi-use facility and city hall.
Those were some of the highlights in the proposed 2021 city budget that the Hoschton City Council will vote on Dec. 28. A public hearing on the budget is slated for Dec. 21 at the council's regular monthly meeting.
Overall, the budget calls for a 13% increase in spending over the budget approved for 2020. The city anticipates $1.8 million in General Fund revenue and $1.6 million in spending next year.
Some highlights are:
• The city is budgeting $89,250 for a police department, although the city council hasn't formally voted to create a police department. The idea has been discussed at several city council meetings, a public forum and at the council's retreat meeting. But creating a police department would likely lead to the town imposing a property tax to help pay for it. "I am always open to options, but if the citizens want it, they will have to pay for it and that usually comes from property taxes," Mayor Shannon Sell said in September. No property tax is included in the 2021 budget.
• City officials have budgeted $350,000 for a new building called an "infill city square development project." That is a multi-use facility and could contain a new city hall, an idea which was discussed briefly at a recent council meeting.
• The city expects to generate $868,800 in impact fees in 2021, an amount that is in addition to its general fund. Those dollars are slated to be used for building facilities, specifically for recreation, fire and police. The impact fees would come from an assessment placed on new homes and businesses in the town, mostly from the massive Twin Lakes development. But developers of that project, Kolter, has sued the city over how impact fees were created and aimed at their project. The move would add $2,500 to $3,000 to the cost of a home in the development.
• The city is outsourcing its planning and zoning to a consultant, a move that cut the city P&Z budget from $629,700 to $91,300. In addition, the city is setting up a separate buildings inspection department at a cost of $130,600.
• The city's largest single source of general fund revenue is projected to come from building permits at $716,000, followed by local option sales taxes at $352,800 and planning and development fees at $250,000.
• The city's largest financial area is its water and sewerage systems which together are expected to generate $5.6 million in revenues in 2021. Those areas also have a lot of expenses slated for 2021, including a number of capital projects, including two new water tanks and an expansion of its wastewater treatment facilities.
Work could soon begin on 300 new townhomes in Hoschton following action by the Hoschton City Council on Dec. 21.
The council approved the preliminary plat for Cambridge at Towne Center, a move that should allow Rockhaven Homes to begin work on the project. Zoning and other approvals were given in 2019.
The action came as the council began to wind down 2020 and gear up for 2021.
Among the items approved by the council were:
• the swearing-in of Joesph Hayes as the town's code enforcement officer. The city had earlier worked out a deal with the Jackson County Magistrate Court to hear city ordinance violations. Officials said the town is now positioned to be more aggressive in citing city codes.
• transmitting the city's comprehensive plan update to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission for review. The update will then come back to the council for final action.
• a hearing of the city's 2021 budget. Nobody spoke in opposition to the budget and city officials didn't discuss any details during the meeting. Among the items in the budget are funds to start up a town police department, likely in the third quarter of 2021.
• changing the monthly council meetings for 2021 to one meeting per month to be held on the third Monday at 5:30 p.m. The town's planning commission will now meet on the fourth Monday at 7 p.m.
• a rezoning for Eddie Butler at 126 New St. to divide the property for two single-family homes.
• variances on three tracts of land so that the city can build two new water tanks in town.
• a resolution for a storm water facility maintenance agreement.
• an updated ordinance stormwater ordinance for post-construction.
Although the council took no action on the matter, Mayor Shannon Sell again discussed his idea to hike the pay of the council and mayor. Sell had earlier said he wants the pay to go from $25 per meeting (with a cap of $75 per month) to $500 per month for council members and $1,000 per month for the mayor.
Sell said Dec. 21 that the reason for the pay hike, which wouldn't take effect until 2022, is to encourage people to run for office and that serving on the council shouldn't be a financial burden to people.
"In the future when I'm no longer mayor, I want a qualified person on this council and mayor," he said. "I want somebody that's smart, that's willing to work and that's not up here wasting time. I want an educated person that's got the best interest of the city at heart and also that knows what they're doing."
Sell said he also wants to expand the council to six members from the current four. He said the total cost to the city for a better-paid council would only be a total of $48,000 per year, an amount he said was worth it.
A man was killed when a trench collapsed near Hoschton on Dec. 18.
The 42-year-old man was working in a sewerage drain line for a subdivision at 128 Morris Creek Dr., off of Hwy. 332, Hoschton.
According to coroner Dean Stringer, workers dug the man out, but he was dead from his injuries. Jackson County EMS, fire and rescue responded to the scene.
The man worked for Balance Site of Norcross.
OSHA, the Jackson County Sheriff's Office and Jackson County Coroner's Office are continuing to investigate the incident.
The Jackson County Superior Court has rejected an effort by the developers of Twin Lakes to stop impact fees imposed by the City of Hoschton.
The move paves the way for the town to begin imposing fees on new homes and businesses. Funds will be used to pay for fire, police and recreation facilities in the town.
The suit, filed by developer Kolter Homes, had sought to stop the city from imposing the fees since they will push up the price of housing being built in its Twin Lakes community. The fees were rushed into place by the city over the summer in order to capture as many hew homes in Twin Lakes as possible.
Judge Currie Mingledorff ruled against Kolter, saying the company would not suffer harm if the fees are put into place.
"If injunctive relief is not granted, Plaintiffs will face an increased financial burden due to the fee," said Mingledorff. "However, if the injunction is granted, Defendants will not have the funding available to be able to provide the allegedly necessary public services and facilities for the developing area."