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LaFayette Freedom Festival canceled, but fireworks still a go

With uncertainty still surrounding social distancing guidelines, restrictions on large gatherings and other COVID-19-related issues, the LaFayette City Council unanimously decided to cancel this year’s Freedom Festival, which had been set for the evening of July 3 at the LaFayette Recreation Center.

The festival is the second major festival in the city to be canceled over concerns about the pandemic this year. Organizers for the Honeybee Festival announced their decision to call off their fourth annual festival, which had been scheduled for June 13, due to health and economic concerns.

The Freedom Festival decision was made during a May 22 council meeting held via a conference call.

However, the council voted, by a 3-2 margin, to allow the Freedom Festival’s traditional fireworks show to be held on the night of July 3 at its usual approximate time of 10 p.m., but with some restrictions in place. Council members Wayne Swanson and Beacher Garmany cast votes against holding the fireworks while Judy Meeks, Chris Davis and Joe Massingill voted to proceed with the annual pyrotechnics.

Those restrictions concern possible limiting of vehicle parking and pedestrian traffic at the recreation center as it relates to social distancing and limits on public gatherings. The council decided to base those limitations on what rules and guidelines the state may have in place in early July.

Walker County early voting proceeds normally with some health precautions

An order issued for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit requires those entering the courthouse to vote or for other business to wear masks and establishes other steps to screen visitors.

The Judicial Circuit includes Walker, Catoosa, Dade and Chattooga counties.

Circuit Judge Kristina Cook Graham signed the judicial order May 18, following Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton’s second order May 11, which extended the state’s judicial emergency for continuing essential court services and reopening nonessential court services. Walker County Elections and Registration Director Danielle Montgomery’s office is taking steps to ensure voter safety for those who prefer to cast their ballots in person in early voting for the June 9 primary and on election day.

“We have social distancing, masks and sneeze guards at the check-in station,” she said. “We are wearing masks and gloves and sanitizing everything at least once per hour.”

Elections staff wipe voter cards after each use and wipe voting machines as frequently as possible, at least once per hour, she said. Voters are asked to place their identification on the table or to hold it up to the Plexiglas, rather than staff handling the ID and then handing it back to the voter.

Montgomery said she is aware of only one person who objected to the judicial order’s safety precautions. She was told one would-be voter refused to wear a mask to enter the courthouse.

She explained that voters can remove the masks if they desire once they enter the elections office, but the order requires them to put the mask back on as they exit her office back into the hall of the courthouse.

If someone entering the courthouse does not have a mask or face covering, as required by the order, the sheriff’s department will provide one.

The order specifies giving each visitor a health screening consisting of some COVID-19-related questions and temperature check with a no-touch thermometer. The screening takes a few minutes.

Montgomery said the courthouse health precautions will remain in place until the state’s judicial emergency ends; however, voting precincts are not subject to the court order.

Voting so far

Despite COVID-19, early voting, which started May 18, is running smoothly and is typical of other elections, Montgomery said.

Her office processed 9,000 absentee ballots and has already received half of those back, she said. More than 300 voters had come to her office, the only location open for in-person early voting, by close of business May 21.

Montgomery encourages voters to mail their ballots or return them to the elections office before election day and reminds them that they must bring their ballots in no later than on election day, June 9.

Seventy early voters surrendered their absentee ballots, preferring to vote in person instead, she said.

Montgomery wants to quell concerns about absentee voting security. She said elections staff compare signatures on forms requesting an absentee ballot and on the ballots when received.

The office updates rolls by checking obituaries and they are notified by families that loved one died after requesting the absentee ballot but before the ballot was mailed back to the elections office, she said.

Walker elections staff have seen no evidence of ballot harvesting, she said.

Poll workers needed

Because many poll workers are older and possibly at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, many elections offices have had fewer volunteers to work the polls June 9.

“Most of my precincts are good,” she said. “I’m in need of some poll workers at a few precincts.”

Montgomery asks anyone is interested in volunteering to work the polls June 9 to contact her office as soon as possible because new volunteers will need training.

For election information or to volunteer as a poll worker, call the Walker County Elections and Registration office at 706-638-4349. More information election information is available at

Carpet manufacturer to expand in Chattooga County
109,000-square-foot plant will create 104 additional jobs

A high-end commercial carpet manufacturer in Chattooga County announced plans Tuesday, May 19 for a $5 million investment that will double its payroll.

Try-Con Tufters, which began operations in 2005 in Lyerly, will build a 109,000-square-foot plant that will create 104 additional jobs, bringing the company’s Georgia workforce to more than 200.

“Try-Con Tufters has been a first-rate employer in Chattooga County for 15 years,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “We’re glad that Georgia has been able to provide the workforce necessary for their growth.”

“Try-Con is very appreciative of the state of Georgia, the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority, and Chattooga County for allowing us to grow and expand our business,” Try-Con Tufters CEO Milford Morgan added. “This expansion will ensure our presence in Chattooga County for many years to come.”

Try-Con Tufters specializes in making quality carpets for hospitality and contract customers from all over the world.

Job opportunities at the new plant will include operators, menders, and creelers. Interested individuals are encouraged to visit TryCon Tufters’ Human Resources Department at 5569 Hwy 114 for additional information.

Walker County Health Department offering free drive-up COVID-19 testing

Free COVID-19 testing is available to all Georgians who request it, whether they have symptoms or not. The Walker Health Department, 603 E. Villanow Street, LaFayette, is offering free drive-up COVID-19 testing from 1-4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays, and from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Anyone wanting to be tested should go to the health department, remain in their vehicle, call 706-638-5577, and say they want to be tested for COVID-19. A nurse will come to the vehicle, obtain contact information for follow-up, and collect the specimen needed for testing. Test results will be reported just as soon as available.

“We encourage everyone to get tested for COVID-19 infection to determine who is currently ill and contagious,” says Dr. Gary Voccio, health director for the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District. “This helps us identify people who might transmit the virus. We can then isolate them to prevent transmission, ensure they’re cared for, identify and interview their close contacts, and quarantine and monitor these individuals as necessary to slow the spread of the virus.”