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First COVID-19 vaccines administered at Piedmont Rockdale
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CONYERS — The first round of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines in Rockdale and Newton counties was administered Thursday afternoon at Piedmont Rockdale Hospital.

The vaccinations of five hospital employees followed Wednesday’s vaccinations of Gwinnett Rockdale Newton Health District employees in Lawrenceville. The three-county health district is one of the first places in Georgia to get a shipment of the vaccine, which has been highly anticipated amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic reached the district in March and thousands of people in Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale counties have contracted the coronavirus disease since then.

Frontline health care workers and EMS providers are among the groups that get the vaccine in the first phase of distribution. Health district officials are working with Piedmont Hospital and other hospitals in the district to help ensure they have enough doses to meet their vaccination needs.

Dan Morgan, Rockdale’s director of Emergency Management, issued a pandemic update last week noting that widespread vaccinations for the general population are still 90 to 120 days away and that any vaccine will require a second shot three to four weeks after the first.

As the vaccine availability increases, there will be larger scale vaccination sites opened, he said. An estimated timeline is that high-risk populations will be vaccinated in very late 2020 or early 2021. More widespread vaccinations will occur in the spring of 2021.

Morgan also said that infection rates are increasing as a result of Thanksgiving gatherings and cautioned residents to exercise precautions over the Christmas holidays.

“With people now spending more time indoors, becoming ‘COVID’ fatigued with all the cautions and with even more potential gatherings coming over the next 30 days, all of us need to take a long, hard look at any social/family gatherings that are in the planning stages,” he said. “The numbers are no longer a spike but a consistent upward trend that shows no signs of slowing down.”

He encouraged residents to continue to follow protocols in place — washing hands, wearing masks and social distancing.

Rockdale County, the city of Conyers and the city of Covington all have mask ordinances in effect for government-owned/operated facilities.

Newton students design superintendent's 2020 holiday cards

COVINGTON — With so many outstanding submissions to choose from, it was impossible for Newton County School System Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey to pick just one piece of artwork to feature on her official 2020 holiday card. In fact, she couldn’t even pick just two or three. Instead, 31 pictures created by Newton County School System students will be featured on 16 different cards to be mailed to local elected and community officials, superintendents from surrounding school districts, and the many other supporters of Newton County Schools on Fuhrey’s holiday card list. Students at the Newton College & Career Academy provided layout and printing services for the cards.

“This is a tradition that I am so proud to continue,” said Fuhrey. “I’ve received so many compliments since I started featuring student artwork on the holiday cards. In fact, before the holidays get here, people start asking me if they’re going to receive one of the cards again this year. They are quite popular!”

As in previous years, dozens of holiday designs were submitted by NCSS students of all ages and after spending over an hour reviewing the various submissions, Superintendent Fuhrey selected the following students’ designs to be featured on her 2020 holiday cards:

Winners in the Superintendent’s 2020 Holiday Card Art Contest are as follows:

♦ Haylee Matthews, fifth grade, Middle Ridge Elementary

♦ Emma Dykes, fifth grade, Flint Hill Elementary

♦ Karirio Kelsey, sixth grade, Clements Middle

♦ Carley Polston, seventh grade, Indian Creek Middle

♦ Eddarrion Jackson, seventh grade, Cousins Middle

♦ Brielle Henderson, eighth grade, Newton County Theme School

♦ Henry Meller, eighth grade, Newton County Theme School

♦ Cooper Pittman, eighth grade, Newton County Theme School

♦ Hartlee Allen, eighth grade, Newton County Theme School

♦ Angelica Negron-Rivera, eighth grade, Cousins Middle

♦ Jessica Wilson, ninth grade, Eastside High

♦ Jada Ruiz, ninth grade, Alcovy High

♦ Amber Woods, ninth grade, Alcovy High

♦ Grace Bishop, 10th grade, Eastside High

♦ Naomi Higdon, 10th grade, Eastside High

♦ Ava Singleton, 10th grade, Eastside High

♦ Myel White, 10th grade, Eastside High

♦ Mallory Jordan, 10th grade, Eastside High

♦ Carson Suriano, 11th grade, Eastside High

♦ Shelby Sharpe, 11th grade, Eastside High

♦ Akayla Khaleel, 11th grade, Eastside High

♦ Divina Goodman, 11th grade, Alcovy High

♦ Hailey Riviere, 11th grade, Eastside High

♦ Kaitlyn Galloway, 11th grade, Alcovy High

♦ Brie Worton, 11th grade, Eastside High

♦ Kylie Cordell, 12th grade, Eastside High

♦ Charleigh Logue, 12th grade, Eastside High

♦ Lauren Gates, 12th grade, Eastside High

♦ Mallory Glaze, 12th grade, Eastside High

♦ Antonio Lopez, 12th grade, Alcovy High

♦ Aeryn Barrentine, 12th grade, Alcovy High

“I am so proud to have our students’ artwork on my cards,” said Fuhrey. “We have some very talented artists in our school system and featuring their creations on my cards is one way I can showcase that talent with others in our community. The pictures are absolutely beautiful and I want to thank each and every one of these students for taking the time to create artwork for my cards.”

Groundbreaking held for The Cove apartment complex at Covington Town Center
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COVINGTON — After many months of planning, negotiations, grading and paving, a groundbreaking was held Dec. 17 at Covington Town Center for The Cove, a 350-unit high end luxury apartment complex being developed by Haven Communities.

Industrial Development Authority Chairman Lanier Sims opened the brief ceremony by thanking all of the private and public partners who worked together to bring the project to fruition.

“The word groundbreaking stands for far more than just breaking ground,” Sims said. “It stands for the vision our boards have to have a live/work/play community. It stands for all the naysayers that say Covington-Newton County cannot have a high-end luxury community. It stands for the wisdom and vision from previous boards of commissioners and city councils. It stands for the vision of the Foxfield Company to invest in the future of Covington with the development of Town Center. It stands for the ‘Yes, we can’ when everyone else said ‘No, we can’t’ and when Haven Communities had the vision to change the landscape of what luxury communities can be in Newton County. Close teamwork and partnerships are the real reasons behind bringing us here today.”

Jay Williams of Haven Communities said they are thrilled and excited not only to be building a project in Covington, but also for being able to play a part in the growing community.

“One of the things that first attracted us to this opportunity was not only the history associated with Covington and Newton County, but also the tremendous growth going on,” Williams said. “We were, quite frankly, astonished with all the amazing things going on out here. For us to be able to be a part of it is special.

“It is going to be great,” Williams continued. “It will set the standard for quality in this area, hopefully for a long time. We’re hopeful all the various employers that are here and that are coming here will send folks over to live here. This particular development, Covington Town Center, is special and will be great for a long, long time, and we’re just excited to be a part of it.”

Covington Mayor Steve Horton said it is a great day for Covington and a day that has been “anxiously awaited for a long time” by a lot of people.

“The groundbreaking for the Haven Communities project — The Cove — on its own merit is exciting, but even more so because we view this as the first real step to completion and build out of the Covington Town Center project,” Horton said. “As mayor of Covington and on behalf of the Covington City Council, including past elected officials and staff, I want to thank David Tracht and Jay Williams and the entire Haven Communities team.

“It is a 26-acre, $57 million project. It is not a small undertaking or investment in our community by any stretch of the imagination. We appreciate that confidence in our community to make that investment. When it is complete, it will be a 350-unit high-end residential apartment complex that I’m sure we can all be proud of, and we look forward to a very long and prosperous relationship with Haven Communities.”

Rockdale Public Schools postpones in-person learning until February
  • Updated

CONYERS — Rockdale County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts announced the school system will postpone the return of in-person learning on the hybrid schedule until after the February break.

“As I’ve previously communicated, our ultimate decisions regarding the resumption of in-person learning would be based on our local public health data,” said Oatts in a released statement. “With the current levels of COVID-19 infection rates so prevalent within our county and with the anticipated escalation after the upcoming holiday season, the risk of prematurely returning students to our schools at this time for in-person learning is simply too great for both staff and students.”

Oatts said the school system has taken “significant mitigation measures” to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection; however, the pervasiveness of the disease within the community requires “additional caution and discretion.”

“Our planning, which includes implementing a hybrid schedule as well as establishing school-based COVID-19 testing through our recently acquired telehealth services, is sound; however, we must work collectively for the best chance of success at reducing infection rates in our communities,” said Oatts.

The new target date for resuming in-person instruction will now be Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

“Our teachers and support personnel at the school level will be expected to return to their work sites on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021 to finalize planning and preparation for the return of those students whose parents wish for them to receive in-person instruction on a hybrid schedule as indicated by our recent learner option selection,” said Oatts.

Virtual instruction will continue during this time, Oatts said, and parents will have an opportunity after Jan. 1 to update their preference for in-person or virtual instruction in advance of Feb. 22.

Athletic conditioning and competition will continue by following the rigorous and increased safety protocols created by the RCPS Sports Working Group, said Oatts.

“For those who reasonably inquire about what is the difference in permitting athletic competition at this time as opposed to in-person instruction for students – there are significant differences of scale in planning for a much smaller segment of student-athletes utilizing the full scope of athletic facilities versus reintegrating thousands of students back to in-person instruction,” he said. “Other significant differences include the duration of students’ engagement with teachers/staff for protracted segments of instruction inside classrooms versus athletic conditioning, practice and competition.”

Oatts said the decisions were made after an analysis of local public health data.

“As of today (Dec. 17), the 14-day case rate for Rockdale County is 487 cases per 100,000 and the 14-day positivity rate is 15.1%, which are extremely high. The targets outlined in public health guidance are less than 100 for case rate and less than 5 percent for positivity rate.”

Rockdale is now deemed both an Emerging County of Interest for COVID-19 and a High Transmission Rate County by the Department of Public Health.

“This is not a decision I make lightly, but I most definitely make this decision in the interest of student and staff safety and wellbeing and the well-being of the community in Rockdale County,” said Oatts. “Together, we will ensure that our mitigation measures have the best chance for success at thwarting substantial COVID-19 transmission and return our students and staff to in-person learning safely and successfully.”

For more information on RCPS safety measures, please visit www.rockdaleschools.org/reopening.