One year later: Local leaders reflect on this July 4, compare to 2020

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, June 26, 2021

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The week of the Fourth of July has arrived, and Troup County’s outlook is way different than it was one year ago when COVID-19 cases were spiking.

Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews said he has two perspectives on COVID-19 in the community. On the one hand, he is concerned about Poplar Creek Senior Care, an assisted living facility he manages. On the other, he’s concerned for the Troup County community.

Crews said last year he was extremely busy trying to protect seniors at Poplar Creek against COVID.

“As far as the state of the community, this time last year in June, we were very concerned about the spread of COVID. We were trying to learn what we could about the disease. We were also trying to figure out when the vaccine would come along [so] that we would be able to start vaccinating our people,” Crews said.

“Myself and the mayors were doing Facebook Live shows. We were involving our school system, our health department with discussions about COVID. I can’t remember the exact timing that we had the outbreak at the jail, which we were all the sudden faced with a very serious situation down at the jail. [We had] fears of great numbers of COVID cases. Fortunately, that turned out well.”

Crews said he and other local leaders are “cautiously optimistic” that the virus won’t return in large numbers. However, he also said he and other leaders are concerned about low vaccination rates in the community.

“I have a daughter who is a public health practitioner and a son-in-law that works for Wellstar here. We were sitting this week and talking about it. … We’re just real concerned that we have very low vaccination percentages for Troup County, for the state of Georgia. And almost every medical source that you read points to the fact [of] how important it is to have a large percentage of your community vaccinated,” he said.

Crews said he wants people to enjoy July 4 “to the fullest” but hopes everyone will take precautions against COVID-19.

Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz expressed optimism toward how much the city government was able to get done in spite of the pandemic.

“We were still able to accomplish a lot of our work plan with respect to getting ready to move into the new city hall. Of course, back then we were letting out the contracts and whatnot and making preparations for the theater and some other initiatives, and we were able to accomplish those in spite of the limitations and restrictions that the pandemic put on us,” he said.

Stankiewicz didn’t overlook the fact that Hogansville suffered the same effects of COVID-19 as other communities.

“It was obviously a very serious illness with loss of life, and some of that affected us personally. We had [a city] employee’s husband die. … And we had other people who had relatives, parents die of COVID. And so, when I say it’s amazing how much we’ve accomplished, I don’t mean to minimize the effects, the tragic effects of the pandemic and the effects it had on people’s lives,” he said.

Stankiewicz said he would tell people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to go out and enjoy July 4 festivities.

LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton expressed gratitude that the LaGrange community is handling COVID-19 better than it did last year.

“We’re obviously in a much better place. I think [that] while we’re still not completely out of the COVID pandemic, we are seeing fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, fewer deaths, and I think that most but not all of the restrictions that were in place have been lifted. It’s a very different world,” he said.

Thornton recalled the community seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases last year in June.

“We were trying to follow the best practices, which included the strict social distancing, the wearing of masks, the hand sanitizing, all the various things that were recommended to us. And I think that that helped us slow the rate of growth during the worst part of the pandemic,” he said.

Thornton, who said he was vaccinated against COVID-19, said he encourages those who are eligible to also get vaccinated.

“Regardless of whether people are vaccinated or not, I think that people can enjoy the Fourth of July. But certainly, you know, be smart about it. If they are not feeling well, if they’re suspicious that they might have been exposed to COVID or might have symptoms of COVID, for the best interests of their friends and families, I’d encourage them to stay home,” Thornton said.

Thornton said he’s excited about the return of the Sweet Land of Liberty Parade.