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Latest from Sandra Parrish

    With personal protection equipment running critically low for doctors and nurses on the frontlines fighting coronavirus, one neighborhood in Hall County is doing what it can to help.
  • So how are small hospitals preparing in the event of an out breakout of coronavirus? One in north Georgia is prepping for its first case.  Fannin and neighboring Gilmer County still have no reported cases of coronavirus. But besides an emergency room in Gilmer, Fannin Regional Hospital is the only full-service hospital to serve residents in both counties.  Dr. Dillon Miller, Chief Medical Officer and Chief of Staff at the 70-bed facility, says multiple meetings are held daily with all the hospital’s departments to make sure they are up to date on every protocol or possible situation.  “We’ve limited the access points where people can come into the hospital so we can have the capacity to evaluate those coming in and out,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  Once in, Miller says those with symptoms are segregated not only in the emergency room, but also inside the hospital once admitted.  “Certain areas of the hospital will be designated for patients that potentially have the COVID-19,” he says.  As for the small number of bed space compared to larger hospitals, he says that shouldn’t be an issue.  “It’s going to be less about spacing, because we have a lot of different places we can utilize, and more about more about those who become critically ill,” says Miller.  That’s because there are only so many respirators at the hospital. If it becomes overwhelmed with critically ill patients, they will have to be transferred to other larger facilities with whom the hospital already has partnerships.  “We’ve already reached out to those partner hospitals and they have scenarios and situations where they’ll be able to take on some of those patients as well,” says Miller.  He says the best preparation the hospital can have is urging people to stay home and not risk potential exposure, and if they do develop symptoms to call ahead first.  “By calling ahead, it keeps them at home where they need to be and at the same time it gives us a chance to adapt and adjust our people that are here so we protect our healthcare workers and protect our patients we’re seeing,” he says.
  • More than three years after a beloved game ranch in Gwinnett County closed, it’s about to reopen with a new look, many new animals, and new faces giving it life.  Jonathon and Katy Ordway bought the Yellow River Game Ranch not long after it was forced to close due to declining conditions. The couple, who live just a few miles away, wanted it preserved for their growing young family and have put their own money, sweat, and tears into making it even better.  “We’re very fortunate to have been able do it. It’s been very expensive… but it’s one of those jobs where every day I’m able to go home with a smile on my face; and I’m one of the lucky few people to do that,” Jonathon tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  >>LISTEN TO SANDRA PARRISH’S FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW. Renamed, the Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary, it’s home now to close to 100 animals--many of which the couple has happily taken in from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  Many likely would not have survived otherwise including a deer hit by a car, an owl with encephalitis, an illegal serval who escaped its home in Buckhead, and a coyote, Willie, which was raised as a pet.  It’s now also home to Carmine, a rare black coyote who made friends with local dogs and was captured in East Cobb last month. After two more weeks in quarantine, Carmine will be introduced to Willie.  “We’re really excited because I think the two of them will do really well together,” says Katy.  The four bears at the sanctuary where original to the game ranch and used to be fined to a small caged concrete area. It was a dream of Jonathon’s to build them a natural habit with acres to roam as well as a waterfall and pond.  “When we first let them out, they didn’t want to come out of their cages. They just stayed inside. But after it warmed up a little bit, they came out and they explored a little bit and they explored a little bit farther; and finally, they found the waterfall and pond. Now they’re out there swimming around and playing in it. So, it’s really exciting for us,” says Jonathon.  The Ordways have hired staff from all over the country help them including Animal Manager Clint Murphy, who brings experience from other zoos.  “We were able to start building almost a dream team of keepers and educators to come out and flush out the dream the Ordways already have,” he says.  Now, after much anticipation, the sanctuary will open to the public April 3rd.  “It will be by reservations at first because we want to kind of take it easy on the animals, the systems, the people, everything. So, we’ll kind of limit the attendance each day,” says Katy.  The sanctuary will only be open Friday through Sunday the first few weeks. Visitors can make their reservations at www.yellowriverwildlifesanctuary.com.
  • After three days of searching along the Appalachian Trail in Dawson County, the body of a missing hiker has been found not far from where the trail begins at Amicalola Falls State Park.  Eddie Noonkester, 60, began his hike Friday but called a friend Sunday around 11 a.m. saying he was having medical issues. He then called 911 himself 30 minutes later saying he was disoriented.  Search teams found some of his belongings Monday afternoon after pinging his cell phone.  Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson says his body was located Wednesday afternoon about a mile southwest of the hike-in trail. It was in an area with steep terrain that had not been previously searched.  “The team that actually found him… [it] was a team from Gilmer, Dawson… and Forsyth County,” he says.  Thompson would not release a possible cause of death but says Noonkester’s body has been taken to the state crime lab for an autopsy.  His brother, Wesley Noonkester, thanked emergency workers for their efforts. He actually came to the aid of another distressed hiker during his own search for his brother.  “It was not the outcome that I had hoped for. But at the end of the day our goal was to bring Eddie home, and we were able to do that,” he says.  Thompson says they have come the rescue of hikers along the trail before who suffered minor injuries or were lost, but never had such an extensive operation combining the efforts of multiple jurisdictions and more than 100 searchers.  He says the conditions have been treacherous the entire time.  “From heavy rain to lightening and now we’re looking at frozen precipitation up in this area and the rescuers and searchers have had to endure this,” says Thompson.  Wesley Noonkester says he will sleep well now knowing his brother is in a better place.
  • Search and rescuers will resume their efforts this morning along the Appalachian Trail in Dawson County looking for a missing North Carolina man.  Eddie Noonkester began his hike Friday at Amicalola Falls State Park, but called a friend Sunday saying he was having medical issues. The friend in turn called 911.  The 60-year-old then called 911 himself about 30 minutes later but couldn't give dispatchers his location and may have been disoriented.  Searchers pinged his phone in order to search the area where they did locate some of his belongings Monday afternoon.  “It’s a very, very treacherous area. The terrain is just very, very difficult. You couple that with heavy rains we’ve had… and will have over the next 72 hours,” says Dawson County Fire Chief Danny Thompson.  He says the Georgia Emergency Management Agency is assisting as well as multiple law enforcement agencies and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.  Volunteers who want to help can also email their information to dcsar@dawsoncounty.org.  “When you email into that address, leave your name, a contact telephone number, your availability and your experience level of hiking,” says Thompson.  He says Noonkester was planning to hike the Appalachian Trail all the way to Maine which usually takes about six months.
  • For a week, Vanessa Prior’s Great Pyrenees named Ruth Bader has had a friend--a black coyote that researchers have been tracking since late December when it was first spotted in Smyrna.  It ended up in Prior’s backyard in East Cobb, where for a week it would show up every morning to play with Ruth Bader.  “(They were) playing together and jumping in the pool and chasing each other,” she tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  Wondering what the animal was, she posted on social media looking for answers.  “Was it a coyote; was it a fox; half dog-half fox? I really wasn’t sure,” says Prior.  It’s actually a melanistic coyote according to Chris Mowry, a biology professor at Berry College and co-founder of the Atlanta Coyote Project. He says while rare, it’s more common in the Southeast.  “In the West, for example, we rarely see black coyotes. But here in the Southeast, it’s in the gene pool,” he says. >>LISTEN TO SANDRA PARRISH’S FULL ON-AIR REPORT BELOW. The coyote’s affection for dogs may also be a genetic trait that’s been discovered in wolves and dogs that Mowry would like to learn more about.  “This potentially gives us the opportunity to look for this gene in this animal. We don’t know for sure, but [I] have some suspicions that perhaps there’s a genetic basis,” he says.  That’s why he enlisted the help of licensed coyote trapper Brandon Sanders of Sanders Wildlife Incorporated and Lara Shaw, a known dog trapper with Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.  Both set up cameras in Prior’s yard and like clockwork the coyote would appear every morning for her play date.  “Ruth Bader—she is the hero. Because if she hadn’t been playing with the coyote, we wouldn’t be here right now,” says Shaw. Within two days, the coyote was caught in one of two traps set up in the backyard of a home behind Prior’s house. Sanders transported it to the Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary in Lilburn where it will live happily with another coyote and allow Mowry to continue his studies of it.  He had to get special permission for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to capture and relocate it.  “Biologists who study coyotes—we’re not in the business of capturing and relocating coyotes. But this was a unique situation in that this coyote was not acting aggressively but on the contrary was acting very friendly,” he says.  Prior says she’s happy the coyote will be saved but knows it will be missed.  “Ruth Bader is definitely going to miss her,” she says.
  • Gilmer County becomes the latest to declare itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary in a growing movement across the country to protect gun rights. The movement started in wake of anti-gun legislation being considered by the Virginia Legislature.  Jason Williamson of Ellijay joined a packed Gilmer County commission meeting Thursday night to present a petition with 700 signatures.  “It is clear that across the United States that we need to send a message to Washington D.C., state and local elected officials, that we, the people, do not want our right to bear arms infringed upon--period,” he told the commission.  Joene DePlanke, also of Ellijay, told commissioners it’s important for the county to join the movement.  “Our forefathers worked hard to give us these rights. And we just would like to make sure that Gilmer County is determined to protect our Second Amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution,” she said.  The three commissioners passed the resolution unanimously.  Chairman Charlie Paris tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish it’s important for all Georgia counties to come together on this.  “I don’t think that our current state folks would be threatening us. (But) I do believe the federal people, at any time, would love to start restricting gun rights,” he says.  Paris says the resolution makes a statement more than anything.  “That we’re opposed to this and that we would not willingly surrender our guns,” he says.
  • Facing budget cuts, the head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation gives state lawmakers an option to stay on top of testing rape kits even with fewer scientists. Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget includes the elimination of nine forensic scientist positions in the State Crime Lab something concerning to state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) whose bill four years ago now requires all rape kits be conducted in a timely manner. “This is something that is incredibly important, and we’re just not going to accept going backwards into creating a new backlog—we’re just not,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.
  • In his ongoing efforts to go after street gangs, Gov. Brian Kemp unveils new legislation that could have some of the most violent members facing the death penalty.
  • Former Gov. Nathan Deal has gotten his first look at the state’s new judicial building named for him. The Nathan Deal Judicial Center is the new home of the Georgia Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals. “The state of Georgia, I think can be very, very proud of this building and all that it signifies,” he says.  During his time as governor, Deal was essential in getting the $131 million in funding to build the six story, 215,000 square foot building at the corner of Memorial Drive and Capitol Avenue.  “This is a 100-year-old building. We intend to have this building for 100 years,” remarked Chief Justice Harold Melton before the tour for Deal and local media.  The building holds offices for 150 state employees who were crammed in a total of three buildings across the street from the State Capitol.  “Those who were close to it already knew that the quarters were very cramped in the old Law Building where they were located. Of course, as your recall, we expanded the size of both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  The new building features handmade desks and upholstered chairs made by inmates in Georgia’s prison system. It’s appropriate because Deal was a proponent of rehabilitation and giving prisoners a second chance at life.  “We have to make sure that those who are leaving our system have some skill sets and have as much support as possible so that they can make a successful entry back into civilian life. And to see those kinds of examples in person and in this building certainly is rewarding,” he says.  Deal met one of those former inmates, William Rutledge, during his tour.  “It is because of the rehabilitative programs that are in place within the Department of Corrections that I have become the man I am today,” says Rutledge.  The new building will also soon house Georgia’s new statewide Business Court championed by Deal as well. Cases are scheduled to begin in August.
  • Sandra Parrish

    News Anchor Reporter

    Sandra Parrish has been a reporter for WSB Radio since 1995 and covers political, legislative, transportation, and educational news. She graduated from the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism in 1989 and worked as an anchor/news director for WPLO in Lawrenceville, an anchor/assistant news director for WNGC in Athens and an anchor/reporter for WDUN in Gainesville before joining the WSB news team. Over the years, she has received over a dozen Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for "Best Use of Sound", "Best Series", and "Best Sports Reporting". She's also received numerous awards from the Associated Press, Georgia Association of Broadcasters, Society of Professional Journalists, and National Association of Black Journalists. Sandra is a former member of the board of the Georgia Associated Press Broadcast Association. She is married with two daughters.

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News

  • A group of protesters ignored a stay-at-home order so they could gather in front of a North Carolina women’s clinic. The city of Charlotte received complaints Saturday morning about people possibly not following Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order. There was a protest at a preferred women’s health center in the Grier Heights neighborhood. “They’re putting our first responders at risk if they have to show up,” Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said. “I just think it’s unconscionable. You can agree or disagree with reproductive health care, but it doesn’t matter. It’s legal. It’s deemed an essential business.”
  • Residents of several communities have come up with a fun way to keep kids entertained while school is out. Cities and towns such as Boston, Walpole, Haverhill, Leominster and others have organized “bear hunts,” where residents place teddy bears in their windows so kids can drive or walk around spotting the bears. “As we take our daily walks, we look at everybody’s windows to see if we can find a teddy bear,” said Candida Shepard, a mother. Shepard’s 4-year-old twins, Payton and Ayden, have taken up the fun activity in their Hyde Park neighborhood as more neighbors join in on the fun. “We saw the teddies in the window,” said Payton. The “bear hunts” are inspired by a children’s book, and residents can add their streets to a map on social media that parents use to trace the route they will take their kids on walks or drives, looking - at a safe distance - for the bears displayed in the windows. “It’s something nice to chime in about rather than something dismal, which is going on right now,” said Mary Francis, who put a teddy bear in her window. The Shepard twins’ grandmother placed teddy bears in her window, enjoying the cheer they bring to the youngest neighbors who have been home from school and stuck in the house. “People are actually walking by with a big smile on their face,” said Francis. Kids and adults alike are entertained and uplifted by the sight of the bears in the windows, a heartwarming illustration of how communities are doing everything they can to take care of each other. As volunteers step up to produce masks and donate supplies to medical workers, initiatives like the bear hunt aim to help keep people’s mental health strong. Something as simple as a teddy bear on a windowsill can be the light in someone’s day. As the twins write encouraging messages for others to stay hopeful during a scary time with their mom, a health care worker, they’re also thinking of their family in Italy. The country has been hit the hardest by the virus, where the outbreak has been the most rampant. “Stay safe from the ‘Canola’ virus,” Ayden wrote. If you want to participate, just search in your local community’s Facebook group to find a bear hunt near you.
  • With more states imposing “safer at home” and quarantine orders because of the coronavirus, families and friends are searching for ways to stay connected. Sure, the telephone works, but more people are using video apps for face-to-face contact. It’s a good way for older citizens to connect with grandchildren without worrying about coming in contact. While hugs may be precious, people are becoming more aware of staying isolated. There are plenty of ways to connect. Here is a look at 12 video-chatting applications: Zoom: This app appears to be geared toward business, but families can use Zoom too. Users initiating a meeting are taken to a virtual room that looks like a table in a conference room. Personal groups of up to 100 people can meet online for free. Business options include packages for sale that allow up to 1,000 participants. Facebook Live: Viewers can connect in real-time from their cellphones, computers and even through their television set. FaceTime: This app, though the Apple store, allows users to make video and audio calls to groups of up to 32 people. FaceTime is available on Apple products including iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Facebook Messenger: Similar to FaceTime, Messenger allows free video calling around the world for individuals or groups of up to six. It can be used on cellphones, tablets and computers. Skype: This app has been around for a while. Skype can accommodate groups of up to 50 people worldwide, It can be used on computers, mobile devices, XBox One and even smartwatches. WhatsApp: More than 2 billion users take advantage of the WhatsApp. The mobile app works on Android and iOS platforms, making it a good choice for people with friends owning diverse types of devices. The free app allows groups of up to four users per session. Tango: You know the old phrase. It takes two to Tango, and this app restricts video contact to two people. This free app is good but only two! The free app is good for video calling one other person at a time. You can also make voice calls, send messages and play games using Tango. Google Hangouts: This app is free in its basic form. Google Hangouts allows up to 10 participants at a time. You can even video chat through your Gmail accounts. Instagram: Up to six people can video chat at once via Instagram. Houseparty: This video chat app is owned by Epic Games, which developed Fortnite. Houseparty allows people to play video games or test trivia skills through its interface. It is available through Android, iOS, MacOs and Chrome. Snapchat: With Chat 2.0, Snapchat users can use a full, featured video chat service. Snapchat is free to use, but can chew up a lot of data time. It is recommended to connect to a wireless network before making your call. Viber: The Viber app is good for international calls and one-on-one video calls. Calls between Viber users are free, but a fee will apply for calling people without the app.
  • More than a fifth of Detroit's police force is quarantined; two officers have died from coronavirus and at least 39 have tested positive, including the chief of police. For the 2,200-person department, that has meant officers working doubles and swapping between units to fill patrols. And everyone has their temperature checked before they start work. An increasing number of police departments around the country are watching their ranks get sick as the number of coronavirus cases explodes across the U.S. The growing tally raises questions about how laws can and should be enforced during the pandemic, and about how departments will hold up as the virus spreads among those whose work puts them at increased risk of infection.  »Sign up for our new coronavirus newsletter “I don’t think it’s too far to say that officers are scared out there,” said Sgt. Manny Ramirez, president of Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Nearly 690 officers and civilian employees at police departments and sheriff’s offices around the country have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an Associated Press survey this week of over 40 law enforcement agencies, mostly in major cities. The number of those in isolation as they await test results is far higher in many places. Anticipating shortages, police academies are accelerating coursework to provide reinforcements. Masks, gloves and huge volumes of hand sanitizer have been distributed. Roll call and staff meetings are happening outside, over the phone or online. Precinct offices, squad cars and equipment get deep cleaned in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Yet, many are worried it's not enough. This week, groups representing American police and fire chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and county leaders asked President Donald Trump in a letter to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to ensure they have enough protective gear. “We’re in war footing against an invisible enemy and we are on the verge of running out' of protective supplies, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “We’ve got hospitals calling police departments, police departments calling each other, and it’s time to nationalize in terms of our response.” Police are accustomed to meeting staffing crunches by canceling vacations and leave, putting officers on 12-hour on, 12-hour off schedules and, when necessary, by shifting detectives and other specialized personnel to patrol. And officers are used to risk. It's part of the job. But at a time when Americans are being advised to stay six feet from each other to combat an insidious virus that can live on surfaces for days, the perils and anxieties are new. This crisis is unlike any American police forces have dealt with before, said former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We're in unprecedented territory here,” said Davis, who led the police department when the Boston Marathon bombing happened in 2013. Streets are less crowded as people hunker in their homes. But police must prepare for the possibility of civil unrest among people who become anxious or unhappy about government orders or hospitals that get overrun with patients, he said. In New York, which has rapidly become the American epicenter of the pandemic, more than 500 NYPD personnel have come down with COVID-19, including 442 officers, and the department's head of counter-terrorism was hospitalized with symptoms. Two NYPD employees have died. On a single day this week, Friday, 4,111 uniformed officers called in sick, more than 10% of the force and more than three times the daily average. Leadership at America’s largest police department maintains that it’s continuing enforcement as usual. But they’ve also said that if the disease continues to affect manpower the NYPD could switch patrol hours, or pull officers from specialized units and other parts of the city to fill gaps -- steps also taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. But the U.S. is now leading the world in the number of confirmed cases; more than 100,000. Over 1,700 people have died in the country. And doctors say cases are nowhere near peaking. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington, D.C., said police can't just go out of business. “They need to have ways so that if one person goes down, who’s going to back that person up, so departments are having to be innovative,” he said. In big cities and remote areas alike, officers are being told to issue tickets or summons rather than making arrests for minor crimes. More crime reports are being taken by phone or online. These steps to limit exposure come as police must beef up patrols in shuttered business districts and manage spikes in domestic violence. In Detroit, officials say many of those quarantined should return to duty soon. In the meantime, an assistant chief recently released from quarantine is heading up day-to-day operations while Chief James Craig is out. Many officers are also worried about whether they'll be able to draw workers compensation benefits if they get sick, since the coronavirus is not spelled out in the list of covered conditions. “No one really knows,” said Robert Jenkins, president of the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police union, which covers 22,000 officers. “Unfortunately, we have to be out there. We don’t have a choice.” While the pandemic has so far hit American cities hardest, rural law enforcement agencies with few staff are in some ways most vulnerable. In the tiny West Texas community of Marfa, Police Chief Estevan Marquez instructed his four officers not to pull over cars for minor traffic infractions, especially if they're passing through from areas already hit by the virus. He can't afford for anyone to get sick.
  • Tom Coburn, a former U.S. senator from Oklahoma known as a conservative political maverick, died after a battle with prostate cancer, according to The Associated Press. He was 72. Coburn retired from the Senate in 2015 after being diagnosed with cancer. He served two terms from 2005 to 2015, KOKI reported. “Oklahoma has lost a tremendous leader, and I lost a great friend today,' U.S. Sen. James Lankford said in a statement. “Dr. Coburn was an inspiration to many in our state and our nation. He was unwavering in his conservative values, but he had deep and meaningful friendships with people from all political and personal backgrounds. He was truly respected by people on both sides of the aisle.” In the Senate, Coburn was the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and also served on the committees on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and Intelligence. From 1995 to 2001, Coburn represented Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A family physician, Coburn was a member of the Committee on Commerce, where he sat on the subcommittees on Health and Environment as vice-chairman, Energy & Power, and Oversight and Investigations. Coburn was also selected co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2001. Services for Coburn have not been announced, KOKI reported.
  • Florida senior citizens who live in a downtown Orlando high-rise flickered the lights of their apartments Friday in a show of support for the doctors and nurses who are trying to thwart the spread of the coronavirus. Residents of Westminster Towers flickered their apartment lights at 9 p.m. to show support for the medical professionals working at Orlando Health. “Tonight, we flashed all of our lights to show our thanks to the hero health care workers at Orlando Regional Medical Center as they work hard to treat the sick and keep us safe from COVID-19,” Westminster Towers said on Facebook. “Thank you.” The display could be seen from the hospital campus, which is near the apartment building. “Thank you (Westminster Towers) for lighting up the night and our hearts,” the hospital network said on Facebook. “We’re all in this together.”