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Newton School System partners with Reagan Pharmacy, health district to provide vaccinations
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COVINGTON — The Newton County School System is partnering with the Gwinnett, Newton Rockdale County Health District and Reagan Home Care Pharmacy to make COVID-19 vaccinations available to interested school system staff members.

The partnership comes after Gov. Brian Kemp expanded COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to include teachers and school staff members beginning March 8.

“We want to make sure that our teachers and staff have access to the vaccines as soon as possible,” said NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey. “These partnerships are an important part of accomplishing that goal.”

The Gwinnett, Newton Rockdale Health District will provide vaccinations for staff beginning this week at Springfield Baptist Church. Vaccinations will be provided at no charge to school system employees. Reagan Home Care Pharmacy will administer vaccines March 12, 17, 19, and 24 at Porter Performing Arts Center on the campus of the Newton College and Career Academy. There will be no out-of-pocket cost for NCSS employees. COVID-19 safety measures will be in place at both sites, and masks will be required throughout the duration of the events.

School system employees will receive an email with information about how to schedule an appointment; vaccinations are encouraged but are not mandatory. Employees may also choose to schedule an appointment for a vaccination with another provider. Providers are listed by the Georgia Department of Public Health on its website, dph.georgia.gov/covid-vaccine.

Fire breaks out at Rockdale house Friday
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CONYERS — Rockdale Fire Rescue, with mutual aid from Newton County Fire Services, extinguished a house fire on Spring Creek Drive in eastern Rockdale County Friday morning. The blaze was attributed to an electrical problem, according to Rockdale Fire Rescue.

According to RCFR Investigator Sharon Webb, the occupants of the residence were not at home at the time the fire broke out. Webb said Fire Rescue was notified of the blaze by a passerby at about 9:50 a.m.

Webb said no one was injured as a result of the blaze.

Covington City Council concerned about Senate bill that could take control away from local boards of health
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COVINGTON — Concerns over what appears to be an attempted power grab by the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) that would take away the power and authority of the local board of health has led the Covington City Council to send a letter opposing the attempt to local state legislators.

Senate Bill 256 was introduced on Feb. 25 and had a hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee the next day. David C. Will, a Gwinnett County attorney who is a former state assistant attorney general who represents the Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Department district, brought the bill to the attention of the City Council at the March 1 meeting.

Will said the DPH is planning to reorganize the local boards of health throughout the state.

“The bill basically changes the format of public health in the state and makes all the (local) boards of health advisory boards only, and takes away their primary function and puts it back into the Department of Public Health,” Will said. “They said the primary reason why they are trying to do this was because the Department of Public Health was having trouble recruiting physicians to serve as the district health officer in some districts around the state, with some vacancies up to three years.

“They also said that the law, which currently lets the health departments combine into a functioning district like we have with Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties, requires the consent of those boards to be in it, and the (DPH) commissioner (Dr. Kathleen Toomey) feels that’s cumbersome and she wants to be able to move those districts around as she sees fit.”

Will said one of the biggest concerns of local health departments is that the bill would take away local control over the boards of health and their abilities to contract for services and get money from the state. It would also make employees of local health departments state employees, which he said is a significant change.

“I started as an assistant attorney general many moons ago, and I’ve never seen a bill quite as drastic as this as far as public health goes,” Will said, adding that the bill caught everyone on the county level by surprise.

“Your district health officer is Dr. Audrey Arona,” Will said. “When she shared that bill with all of her counterparts around the state on Thursday of last week, not one person had heard of it before. So this bill was drawn up completely by the state, with no input from local health departments.”

Will said with crossover day coming up soon, the bill, which is currently still in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, may not make it out of the Senate and into the House in time. But he noted that the state seems to be pushing it hard and fast.

“I wasn’t expecting the bill to be introduced on a Thursday and them having a committee meeting the next morning when two of the sponsors said they hadn’t even seen it yet,” Will said. “So there is some haste on the part of the state to put it together, but I don’t know if that is shared by the Senate.”

Following discussion, the council unanimously approved sending a letter to their state legislators expressing the city’s opposition to the bill as it is currently written.

Will stated that he will keep the City Council updated on any changes made to the bill and its progress through the General Assembly.

Conyers plans for St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans with St. Pet's Day Stroll
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CONYERS — The St. Patrick’s Day festivities planned for Wednesday, March 17 in Olde Town Conyers will look a little different this year, but shenanigans will still be on tap.

The traditional parade will not be held due to COVID-19 concerns; instead the event will feature a St. Pet’s Day Stroll. Pet owners, along with their leashed or harnessed festive Irish-attired pet, are invited to gather at the corner of Commercial and Center streets prior to 5 p.m. At 5 p.m., participants will be led by the Free Range Minstrel David Court, a one-man band, and march with their pets down Commercial Street as St. Patrick’s Day attendees look on. Afterward, a prize will be awarded for the Best Dressed Pet, sponsored by The Pampered Puppy.

Following the St. Pet’s Day Stroll and brief remarks from Mayor Vince Evans, the annual crowning of the children’s St. Patrick’s Day king and queen and the announcement of the Leprechaun Lookalike contest winner for adults will take place. The Celtic Tavern is the sponsor of the Leprechaun Lookalike contest prize.

The Rotary Club of Rockdale County’s World’s Shortest Endurance Race begins with a shotgun start at 5:30 p.m. The run, 0.1 mile in length from the Conyers Welcome Center to The Pointe on Railroad Street, is open to children and adults. Participants will receive a T-shirt. Registration is still open for those interested in participating. For more information and to register, visit www.rockdalerotary.org.

Commercial Street will remain closed for the remainder of the evening of St. Patrick’s Day with food and drink specials by local restaurants. The festivities are sponsored by The Celtic Tavern and Tin Plate, with live music by Hot Rod Walt and a special guest, playing from 6-10 p.m.

Cherry Blossom Festival welcomes new mascot
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CONYERS – In preparation for the 40th Annual Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival, organizers have announced the name of the festival’s new pink dragon mascot.

The winning name for the newest member of the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival family is Sakura, a Japanese word for cherry blossoms – a flower that symbolizes the spring season, the beauty of nature, and the ephemeral way of life. According to the city, it is the perfect choice that coincides with Japan’s culture and the very principles of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Sakura will take her first steps at the March 27 and 28 Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival at the Georgia International Horse Park, to greet festival fans, take photos and show off her newest dance moves.

“The community made a wonderful choice with the name Sakura,” said festival manager Jill Alpert. “Her name and her very presence will serve as another inspiring reminder of our long-standing friendship with Japan, when the city of Conyers was first gifted several cherry blossom trees from the Maxell company – the birth of this annual celebration. We are excited to add this joyous, interactive element to the festival.”

The Rockdale-Newton Citizen along with the Conyers Cherry Blossom team ran a three-week-long “Name Our Dragon” contest, sponsored by Ingles Market. Members of the community were given the opportunity to suggest and vote for their favorite name while being entered to win prizes and sign up for an Ingles Advantage Card if they did not already have one.

The grand prize winner, Anita Martin-Baker of Conyers, will receive Ingles Market gift cards totaling $2,300 in value.

“When I submitted the name ‘Sakura’ to the contest, I had no idea that I would win, I never win anything,” said Martin-Baker. “This is so exciting! To be a part of the festival history is truly an honor. I can’t wait to attend the festival this year and meet Sakura.”

The runner-up, Krista Firkus, of Porterdale, and an avid shopper at Ingles, will be awarded $200 in Ingles Market gift cards.

“I am so thrilled to be runner-up,” said Firkus. “I’m so grateful to Ingles Market, the Rockdale-Newton Citizen, and the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival for putting on such a fun contest. I always loved going to the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival growing up. With everything going on right now, I’m happy that some community events can be modified, so we can safely continue to make memories with our friends and families!”

Both the winner and runner-up of the contest can use their Ingles gift cards for groceries or gas, plus they will enjoy a one-year subscription to the Citizen newspapers and other fun swag from the community’s newspaper and festival.

Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Admission is free with an $8 parking fee per vehicle. The festival accepts credit or debit cards only for parking fees. In an effort to reduce person-to-person contact, cash is not accepted for parking fees. However, vendors participating in the festival may choose to accept credit cards, debit cards or cash at their booths.

Attendees are encouraged to participate in the festival Pink Out by dressing in the festival colors, decorating a stroller or wagon, and joining in the festivities. Secret judges will be roaming the festival looking for the best dressed patrons and elaborately decorated strollers and wagons. If you get spotted, you will get Pinked and win festival prizes.

The festival will be following COVID-19 guidelines to provide a safe environment for attendees.

What You Can Expect from the Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival Team:

♦ The Conyers Cherry Blossom Team will comply with all applicable federal, state and local regulations, requirements and orders as they relate to mass gatherings, including the latest Governor’s Executive Order for the state of Georgia.

♦ Increased cleaning frequency with special attention to high-touch areas.

♦ Additional space will be allotted between each exhibitor booth and attraction to allow for social distancing.

♦ Seating will be strategically placed to allow for social distancing.

♦ The festival is accepting debit cards and credit cards only as forms of payment for parking.

♦ Hand sanitizing stations.

♦ Employee temperature checks, along with daily health checks, will be conducted daily prior to the beginning of work shifts.

♦ Employees will stay at home if sick.

♦ Employees are supplied with and required to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

♦ Employees will maintain good hygiene, including washing hands frequently.

♦ Practicing social distancing guidelines.

♦ Public restrooms will be closed during cleaning of restrooms.

What We Ask of Our Guests:

♦ All guests must comply with all applicable federal, state and local regulations, requirements and orders as they relate to mass gatherings, including the latest Governor’s Executive Order for the state of Georgia.

♦ Give fellow guests their space and do not congregate. Avoid close contact with others by standing or sitting at least 6 feet apart at all times. At tables, benches or other seating areas, sit only with your party. No gatherings are allowed on the property with more than 50 people, unless there is at least 6 feet between each person.

♦ The Conyers Cherry Blossom Festival strongly encourages guests to wear masks within the festival area. Review the latest state of Georgia Executive Order for current recommendations for wearing face masks.

♦ Frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

♦ Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

♦ Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and dispose of properly.

♦ Stay at home if you are sick or experiencing symptoms of illness, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, or loss of taste.

♦ Stay at home if you have pre-existing health conditions or if you fall into the State of Georgia’s high-risk category for COVID-19.

♦ If you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within the last two weeks, stay at home.

♦ Practice good personal hygiene habits.

♦ Avoid using cash when possible for payment. Bring a credit/debit card instead, or use mobile forms of payment.

♦ Visit the CDC’s website for the latest COVID-19 information and best prevention protocols. www.cdc.gov/COVID19

Don’t forget to check out other Citizen contests throughout the year at your local news resource https://www.rockdalenewtoncitizen.com/ and follow all of Sakura’s adventures on FB at facebook.com/ConyersCherryBlossomFestival.