By Sharon Hall, Matt Aiken & Jennifer Ramsay
“Out of an abundance of caution” became a well-known and oft-used phrase last week as coronavirus-related closures impacted the community in a big way with the announcement of major postponements and cancellations across the county.
Perhaps the biggest announcement came in the evening hours of Thursday when a robo-call went out from the office of Lumpkin County School Superintendent Rob Brown informing parents that schools will be closed “for a minimum of one week” starting Monday, March 16.
Brown’s decision came after a conference call with superintendents across the state and with school systems across the region.
“After a lengthy discussion, we wanted to be cautious by closing schools and preventing an outbreak of the virus,” he said. “We have continued to hear phrases such as ‘avoid congregating people into confined areas’ which is exactly what we do in our schools each day.”
Students will keep up with classes virtually through online lessons and assignments.
On Monday, Governor Brian Kemp extended the closure by more than a week as he ordered all K-12 schools closed until April 1.
In the meantime, custodial employees are breaking out the Lysol to decontaminate, disinfect and sanitize.
“Everything in our buildings,” Brown said. “Bus drivers will be doing the same on the school buses.”
Since these employees are not taking care of their normal duties, Brown does not anticipate any additional cost.
With school lunches off the table, officials of Lumpkin Family Connection are looking to help students in need.
Those who need food are encouraged to contact Director Brigette Barker at email@example.com.
“In the event that Lumpkin County Schools are closed for an additional week or weeks, we will be offering delivery of breakfast and lunch to children under 18 (or under 21 for anyone with a disability) or any student in Lumpkin County Schools,” stated a Family Connection release. “This [no cost] delivery service will begin in our community the week of March 23rd.”
COLLEGE CLASSES CANCELLED
The school system’s announcement came just a few hours after officials at University of North Georgia let students know that classes would come to a halt on Friday.
“Students are asked to depart campus by close of business Friday, March 13, 2020, and to remain away from campus until March 29, 2020,” stated the release.
It was later announced on Monday that the University System of Georgia would move to online courses for the remainder of the semester.
It was a bombshell announcement for many UNG students.
“They gave us not even a full day’s notice, so what do I do?” said freshman Chris Potter after hearing the news. “What does everyone else do?”
Fellow student Donovan Carroll didn’t agree with the move.
“I think this might have been a rash decision,” he said. “If we go to online classes I don’t know how it will work. Organic Chemistry will be hard.”
Meanwhile, senior Naomy Huaman is worried about her fellow international students.“Some of my international friends had to go back to China which I don’t think was a safe call for them at all,” she said. “My best friend was stuck in Taiwan because he didn’t have info on if he would have to pay back his scholarships.”
Locally, signs of the pandemic are most evident at Walmart where hand sanitizer, bread and toilet paper have been in short supply.
County Manager Stan Kelley said he is taking Gov. Brian Kemp at his word that “the supply channels will remain open. [Kemp] urged people to remain calm and ‘leave a loaf of bread for your neighbor.'
The county supports and reiterates his statement to remain calm.”
FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) recommends keeping a minimum of 14 days of food and necessary supplies on hand should there be a need to “shelter-in-place,” Kelley said.
Starting Thursday, festivals, fundraisers, friendly gatherings—and even churches sent notices of cancellation or temporary postponements.
Perhaps the event with the most far-reaching impact is the cancellation of the Bear on the Square Mountain Festival, which hosts thousands of pickers, storytellers, craftsmen, dancers and lovers of art from all across the southeast and beyond.
“The board met for a long time. It was a hard thing for all of us,” said Glenda Pender, Board Chair. “We hate disappointing all our loyal Bear fans, musicians, artists—everyone who has become a part of the Bear family—and ourselves. Thanks so much to all. We appreciate you. But it’s the only right thing to do this year,”
Another major cancellation, mandated by Kemp, is that of the Presidential Primary previously slated for March 24.
This primary will now be held along with the General Primary on May 19.
Lumpkin County Chief Registrar and Elections Manager Ashley Peck said those who have already voted during early voting do not have to vote a second time.
“We will maintain their ballots until May and they will be counted at that time,” she said.
She is unsure, however, about when absentee ballots should be mailed and received at the office.
“The Secretary of State hasn’t told us yet. This has never happened before and we’re learning as we go,” Peck said. “But to be on the safe side, you should send them in by the March 24 due date, just to be sure.”
The Chamber of Commerce stepped back from attending the Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Reception at the Capitol.
“The health and safety of our members and local citizens are our top priority,” Chamber President Robb Nichols said in a release sent to members. “We are very disappointed that we are unable to hold this event, but we know it’s the right decision based on the information we have.”
He also warned that other events may be cancelled as the situation continues to evolve.
Family Connection’s annual Taste of the Mountains fundraiser has been tentatively rescheduled to take place in May. Tickets already purchased “will be honored,” said Barker.
CHP Community Resource Fair scheduled for Saturday, March 21, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. will be held, but not the same way as usual. Instead of holding the event indoors and having people meander through the tables of local resources, it will be a drive-thru event.
“Any vendor who would like to distribute materials or items to our community may bring those items to the CHP Thrift Store or offices on or before Thursday, March 19. On Friday, CHP staff and volunteers will stuff bags and on Saturday, from 11 am-1 pm we will distribute them to the community as they come through the drive- thru at the Dahlonega Assembly of God Church. Our guests will remain in their cars and our volunteers will put items including groceries in the trunk for them,” said CHP’s Rhonda Case.
Several other community events and fundraisers are meeting this week after The Nugget’s deadline to decide if they will cancel their scheduled events, including Dancing With the North Georgia Stars and Side-By-Side.
The county cancelled a much-beloved tradition for youngsters and their parents. The COVID-19 virus cancelled this year’s Opening Day parade and baseball games on March 21. Effective this past Monday, all Lumpkin County Parks & Rec programs are on hold until further notice.
“Open gym time and all … programs for all age groups [are cancelled],” Alicia Davis, Director of Employee and Community Services stated in a press release sent out March 13. “Yahoola Creek Park will be open to the public, but no county-organized or sponsored activities will be held.”
Anyone who has already made arrangements to hold an event at the Community Center or Community House, these buildings will still be available and staffed. The county is leaving the decision up to the individuals or organizations whether or not to hold their event.
The county also made the decision to temporarily close the Senior Center through the end of the month.
“Our hope is that this will allow the instances of COVID-19 virus to diminish in number, which should reduce exposure to this vulnerable population,” Davis’ press release states.
The center will reopen April 1, if the situation allows.
In the meantime, those seniors currently receiving Meals on Wheels will continue to be served.
In addition, staff will be checking in on clients, and deep cleaning the building.
The county Water & Sewerage Authority cancelled its regularly scheduled March meeting. It will not meet again until the third Tuesday in April—depending on the situation at that time.
The retreat planned for the county’s Development Authority was also cancelled.
LATER LIBRARY OPENING
The Chestatee Library Board met late on Sunday and voted to cancel the soft opening of the new Lumpkin County Library scheduled for this past Monday. Both Lumpkin and Dawson facilities will remain closed until March 30.
Despite being closed, wifi is available outside the new library, and the public is welcome to take advantage of that.
No fines will accrue during the closure, David Luke, Chair of the Regional Library Board said.
In addition, the celebration being held for those who played a role in getting the new library built scheduled for March 27 and the Grand Opening on March 28 have been postponed.
“We wanted to let people know early,” said Luke. “We don’t think this is the worst of it.”