Vaccine availability latest, Elections Director oversight & homestead filing deadline
I am greatly encouraged by the vaccine efforts that have taken place in Fulton County and the announcement of the expansion of the COVID-19 vaccine criteria to include all those who are 55 years and older and anyone 16 years and older with high-risk conditions starting March 15, 2021.
As of March 11, Fulton providers have administered roughly 390,000 vaccines with over 130,000 residents now fully vaccinated. The Fulton County Board of Health sites have been critical to this effort delivering upwards of 3,000 shots per day. Fulton’s site in Alpharetta has proven very popular, and Mercedes Benz will soon become a mega site as other partners at the state and federal level join forces with Fulton.
As vaccination efforts grow in Fulton and across the state and people continue to engage in smart behavior, many positive signs are emerging. Test positivity has fallen to 4.2% in the past week and case rates are dropping substantively (incident rate of 192 per 100k as of 3/9 vs 652 per 100k at the beginning of the year). The news from our hospitals also continues to be encouraging as the number of hospital beds and ICU beds occupied by those with COVID has been cut in half since mid-February.
ELIGIBILITY & SIGN UP
As noted, Fulton remains committed to doing its part to get vaccinations to all citizens and during these initial phases has been especially focused on reaching all seniors thru a range of innovative efforts. To track vaccine progress across the state, check out the STATE VACCINE DASHBOARD.
With the growing availability of vaccines, Georgia continues to expand the list of those eligible. Beginning Monday, March 15, 2021, those 55 years and older and 16 or older with high-risk conditions can also receive a vaccination. The Governor added he expects vaccines to be available to ALL Georgians early next month.
The state is adding five mass vaccination sites beginning March 15, 2021, bringing the total to nine.There are more than 2,000 private providers statewide. For appointments March 15 or later, there will be a state run system for appointments. Information can be found at COVID-19 VACCINATION APPOINTMENT GEORGIA. The Fulton hotline is 404-613-8150 and is available from 8 am to 5:30 pm on weekdays for more information or assistance.
If you are struggling with the appointment process, in addition to these resources, I encourage you to reach out to friends and neighbors and ask for their assistance or advice. It has been encouraging to see so many individuals and groups who have been helping out friends and neighbors via social media and other means to help navigate the process and help locate available appointments. We are indeed all in this together.
COVID-19 testing continues to be readily available throughout Fulton County. Our Board of Health has maintained its partnership with CORE to provide tests to everyone, regardless of whether you're experiencing symptoms. To date, more than 1.6 million tests have been administered in Fulton, the highest in the state. TESTING SIGN UP is easy with numerous locations and times available.
ELECTIONS OVERSIGHT UPDATE
Unfortunately, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners delivered a chilling blow to election integrity last week and overturned the decision of the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections (BRE) to terminate the County’s Elections Director. The BRE is an independent bi-partisan FIVE member Board, which in Fulton is comprised of 3 democrats and 2 republicans. In a bi-partisan vote, the BRE voted to terminate the Elections Director, citing a loss of confidence in his leadership and outlining several concerns regarding his performance over the past year. Board members cited a failure to enact consistent policies and procedures and poor election performances which the led to County elections having to enter into a consent decree with the Secretary of State that subject the County to enhanced state monitoring and oversight. The BRE also noted concerns expressed by the state monitor in his report following all of the 2020 elections, the need to re-certify the January runoff election due to the state identifying precincts whose votes were not included in the original certified result, as well as numerous other areas of concern. They did what Boards do at the end of a set period. They evaluated performance, and based on that evaluation determined that changes were needed.
The BRE has responsibility for oversight, appraisal and review of Elections and the Elections Director. It is pretty self-evident that a basic tenet of election integrity is that those who are elected and those who will be running for election should not have the ability to control the actions of the people running the very elections in which they are on the ballot. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia confirmed that no other Board of Commissioners in the state has any powers relating to termination/continued employment of an Elections Supervisor. Despite all this, four members of the Board of Commissioners chose to neuter election officials and overturn their decision. The Fulton County code is silent on whether the Board of Commissioners has any such power, and the decision by the four members was based on a very specious opinion that the Board of Commissioners had to ratify the termination made by the BRE. I don’t agree with that opinion but furthermore, I strongly believe that Commissioners should not be involved in the hiring or firing of the person who leads our elections department. That power should rest with our Board of Registration and Elections.
I will continue to support efforts to keep the hiring, supervision and termination of the Elections Director solely in the hands of the BRE and work to have a strong independent BRE that works to conduct open, accessible, fair and transparent elections in Fulton. Our citizens deserve better than what they have received over the last several years. Allowing elected officials to decide whether an elections director stays or goes sets a very dangerous precedent that all citizens, regardless of political affiliation or persuasion should be disturbed by.
HOMESTEAD EXEMPTIONS 2021 DEADLINE
Every year, I remind you to double check to be sure you are receiving all the homestead exemptions to which you are entitled. Fulton County and cities offer various tax breaks -- the basic homestead exemption as well as exemptions for seniors, low-income homeowners and others. Once granted, exemptions renew automatically each year as long as you continue to occupy the property. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2021. Don't miss out on the opportunity to save money!