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COVID-19 cases on the rise in Pickens County & state

Schools closed for two weeks; Pickens man on ventilator is one of 775 confirmed cases here since outbreak began


map/Georgia Department of Public Health


As COVID-19 cases surge in Pickens County, the local school district has closed all schools for two weeks and a Pickens man fights for his life against the virus at Kennestone Hospital.

On October 23rd school officials, citing a rising number of cases and more than 600 students and faculty in quarantine, made the call to close all schools for two weeks. In-person classes are scheduled to resume on Monday, November 9th.

As of October 23rd, there were three confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Hill City Elementary; four at Harmony Elementary; one at Jasper Middle School; 10 at Pickens High School; one at Pickens Junior High; and seven at Tate Elementary for a total of 26 infections, or 0.55 percent of the schools’ population.

And community cases are increasing as well, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. 

Pickens resident and Bethany-Salem volunteer firefighter Nick Pickett is in stable but critical condition after he was admitted to the hospital on October 9th when he tested positive for COVID-19 and double pneumonia. His wife, Casey, who has worked as a Pickens County 911 dispatcher for more than a decade, along with the couple’s daughter, also tested positive for the virus.

Nick, age 38, is now on a ventilator and underwent a tracheotomy last week to relieve pressure on his vocal chords, according to Kristy Easterwood, operations chief for the Pickens 911 Center and the person who organized a GoFundMe fundraiser for the couple. 

“Nick is a volunteer firefighter and assistant chief at Bethany-Salem Fire Department and works as a paramedic with Metro Ambulance Service in Bartow,” Easterwood said. “Nick is very sick and Casey also tested positive for (COVID). Her symptoms were not being able to smell or taste and real fatigue. Their daughter, who is nine years old, also tested positive but was asymptomatic.”

“Nick had tested negative earlier in the week for the coronavirus and when he still felt bad thought it was just a sinus infection,” Easterwood said. “Casey took him to Cartersville Medical Center after he progressively got worse and they put him on a ventilator on the 16th. On October 17th they wound up flying him to Kennestone via an AirLife helicopter and put him on ECMO.”

An ECMO machine replaces the function of the heart and lungs, according to the American Thoracic Society. An ECMO machine is used to help people whose lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the body even when they are given extra oxygen; when lungs cannot get rid of carbon dioxide even with help from a mechanical ventilator; or when the heart cannot pump enough blood to the body.

Due to the length of time Nick has spent on a ventilator, Easterwood said on Friday, October 23rd he underwent a tracheotomy to help “not do so much damage since the ventilator has been in so long,” Easterwood said. “That will save damage to his vocal chords.”

Nick’s family hasn’t been able to see him - and won’t be able to until he tests negative for COVID.

“It’s crazy how it hits different people so bad,” Easterwood said. “He was healthy - no prior history of anything and no previous breathing problems.”

On Saturday, October 24th, Easterwood posted an update from Casey on Nick’s condition: “Nick had opened his eyes and looked at the doctor when he called his name. Nick was taken off the paralytic and doctors have started to lighten his sedation.” There has also been “slight improvement in the volume of air in his lungs. He’s not out of the woods yet, but God is still answering prayers. Please keep them coming.”

While Mrs. Pickett plans to return to her job as a 911 dispatcher as soon as she can, Easterwood said Nick was the “breadwinner” and there’s “no telling when he will get to go back to work.”

“Unfortunately, those car payments and house payments don’t care.”

As of press time Tuesday, more than $8,000 of the $25,000 goal has been raised as part of the GoFundMe fundraiser. To donate, search GoFundMe for “Nick and Casey Pickett Medical Expense.”

As of Tuesday, October 27th, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health there have been 353,372 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, 7,844 deaths and 31,256 hospitalizations.

In Pickens, there are 775 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, Oct. 27th, up by 12 from the previous day. Ten Pickens residents have died from the virus while 68 have been hospitalized.   

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health County Indicator Report for October 10 - 23, Pickens County is one of many counties in the state with a more than 5 percent increase in COVID.