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Addison Selman, a third-grader at Model Elementary School

Parks & Rec planning Playtime with Santa for December

The Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Department is promoting its centers through fun and festive theme events this holiday season.

At the Recreation Services and Finance Committee meeting Tuesday, board members discussed previous and upcoming events that have helped their centers gain more public attention.

With Christmas coming up, RFPR officials have begun planning Playtime with Santa, a new free family fun event.

Santa Claus and his “athletic elves” will be taking over the local recreation centers for an evening of games, music and festive fun.

Playtime with Santa will take place the second and third weekends of December from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and on Tuesday Dec. 12.

Kids will be able to get their pictures taken with Santa and play different games in the center, such as basketball, hula hoops and even Nerf games in some locations. A coloring station with holiday sheets will also be available.

Kids will be able to help themselves to milk and cookies at the event.

The event will also serve as a way for people to learn about the different facilities Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation offers to rent out to the community, such as the different centers where the events takes place.

Back in October, the annual Truck or Treat was almost flooded out, but Parks & Rec officials acted quickly and moved the event inside the Thornton Recreation Center at North Floyd Park.

The event had a turnout of almost 1,900 kids and their parents.

“We had people saying they had never been to the center before or even heard of it.” Recreation Services Manager Jim Alred said.

Playtime with Santa will travel to a different center each day. The schedule is: Parker Center on Kingston Highway Dec. 9; Thornton Center at North Floyd Park on Dec. 10; Anthony Center at Garden Lakes Park on Dec. 12; Gilbreath Center on Garden Avenue in Lindale Dec. 16; and Fielder Center near Banty Jones Park on Dec. 17. Each event runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Resaca man pleads guilty to charges from 2018 child sex sting

Craig Kirby

Picked up as part of an initiative to stop internet child predators, a Resaca man pleaded guilty Tuesday to several charges and was sentenced to 10 years, with 5 served in prison.

Craig Henry Kirby was arrested in February 2018 on criminal attempt to commit aggravated child molestation as well as obscene internet contact with a child. Kirby traveled from his home to have sex with a person he thought was a 15-year-old girl, Assistant District Attorney Mary Beth Gregoire said.

He was arrested by Floyd County police detectives who have partnered with other agencies across the state and southeast to capture child predators.

For instance, in May 2019, Operation Southern Impact III targeted child predators, specifically ones who sexually exploit children with the use of technology. The team arrested a total of 82 people. In that same multi-state operation, 17 children were rescued or identified as victims.

This was the case in Kirby’s arrest, Gregoire said. Floyd County police created an online profile and Kirby initiated the contact. He sent numerous explicit messages and then went to meet her — picking up a Mountain Dew that his quarry had requested as well as condoms.

He was met by police and arrested. He initially denied coming to meet the person he’d been exchanging messages with and he changed his story several times, Gregoire said.

Kirby, who had no previous criminal record, will have to register as a sex offender when he is released from prison.

Several other men were arrested in the same sting from early 2018 that netted Kirby.

Police arrested Jeffrey Ryan Lance — a former Floyd County Schools employee — when he attempted to meet a person he believed to be a 14-year-old for sex. He took a negotiated plea of 10 years, to serve 5 in prison, on sexual exploitation of a child charges.

Stephen Rand McGatha, of Cedartown, pleaded guilty to criminal intent to commit child molestation as well as sexual exploitation of children charges. He was sentenced to 10 years, to serve 5 in prison, for traveling to Floyd County in order to seduce a child.

David Louis Lay, of Silver Creek, was also arrested in March 2019. He pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation of children and was sentenced to 15 years, to serve 5 in prison, in May 2019.

Multiple people have been arrested in similar sting operations locally and have already been sentenced.

A jury found Rodney Steven Corbin guilty of criminal attempt to commit aggravated child molestation, sexual exploitation of children and obscene internet contact with a child in a December 2017 incident. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison with an additional 13 years on probation.

In January and February 2018, Kelly Brian Cordell contacted a person who he believed to be a minor, sending explicit texts and photos of himself. When he went to meet with that person — with the phone he’d used for the communication in his pocket — he found the police. After initially denying the phone was his, he pleaded guilty to counts of obscene internet contact with a child and was sentenced to 20 years, to serve 5 in prison.

Georgia’s HIV problem hitting rural areas hard

Metro Atlanta is often characterized as the epicenter of Georgia’s HIV crisis.

Earlier this year, in fact, President Trump announced an anti-HIV plan targeting four populous counties in greater Atlanta — Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb — among 48 counties in the nation.

But many rural Georgia counties, though their overall populations are not large, have high rates of HIV, says Aaron Siegler, an associate professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“Fulton and DeKalb counties dominate in terms of number of cases, but rural areas have new diagnosis rates only slightly lower than these urban areas. These rural areas likely need different strategies for HIV prevention, and ways to ensure access to treatment and prevention services,” says Siegler, who has produced research on HIV prevention.

Rural residents have more obstacles in getting medical care or in preventing HIV in the first place, he adds.

“The whole U.S. South has substantially high rates of new diagnoses in its rural areas,’’ Siegler says.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, a disease that has killed millions around the world. Much progress has been made in keeping patients alive by thwarting the development of the full-scale disease, but a key to anti-HIV strategy is preventing new infections.

In the United States, the Southern region accounts for 52% of new HIV diagnoses and 47% of deaths attributable to HIV/AIDS.

Besides the 48 county “hot spots’’ that have been designated, federal health officials are focusing their anti-HIV strategy on seven states with high rates of the disease in rural areas. The seven — Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina and Mississippi — are all in the Southeast or on its periphery.

The South has a number of factors leading to these statistics. They include lower health literacy and a lack of access to care and to preventive services, Siegler says. “It’s harder to get access to a culturally competent provider’’ in this region, especially in rural areas, he adds.

CDC officials also say income inequality, discrimination and poorer health outcomes are more widespread in the South.

Georgia has the leading rate of new diagnoses among states. The state ranks No. 3 in HIV risk in the nation, trailing only Ohio and Nevada, according to the study from Health Testing Centers, which used data from the CDC.

Daniel Driffin, 32, who co-founded Thrive SS, a nonprofit that provides support services to 900 African-American men in Georgia who have HIV, said earlier this year that Southern states have an access-to-care problem that he linked to high rates of uninsured people.

“Access to care can be a problem for black and brown people in the Deep South,’’ said Driffin, who has HIV. “Many people often go without meds.’’

Care can be hard to find

The AIDSVu map, created by Emory’s Patrick Sullivan, shows prevalence rates of at least 500 people living with HIV per 100,000 in the following rural South Georgia counties: Stewart, Clay, Wilcox, Decatur, Crisp, Telfair, Quitman, Irwin, Wheeler, Calhoun, Randolph and Colquitt.

The darker shades have the highest HIV prevalence in the state.

“The challenge for many rural patients is transportation, and a lack of qualified providers in their area,’’ says Dr. Wendy Armstrong of Emory University, medical director of the Infectious Disease Program at Grady Health System. “Furthermore, rural patients live in small communities where there is less education about HIV and a far greater concern about losing anonymity with doctor visits, etc.”

Frank Tant of the Rome-based AIDS Resource Council, which serves several rural counties in Northwest Georgia, says stigma surrounding HIV can be a problem in those areas.

Tant, who has lived with HIV for 31 years, told GHN in 2017 that in Northwest Georgia, there is still considerable prejudice against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Fear of being stigmatized motivates some people to travel out of the area for HIV care or for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, a medication regimen that can block HIV infection.

Through daily use of PrEP, people at high risk of getting the virus can lower their chances of becoming infected. But the pills can be expensive.

The Floyd County Health Department, 16 East 12th Street, Rome, offers PrEP for those at high risk of HIV. PrEP provides an opportunity to substantially reduce the risk of HIV infection in HIV-negative people who are at high risk of contracting HIV. You do not have to reside in Floyd to access this service.

By taking one pill every day consistently, PrEP has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection in people who are at high risk by up to 92%.

PrEP is covered by nearly all health insurance plans and even If you do not have health insurance, you may be able to get PrEP at no-or-low cost. Anyone interested in learning more about PrEP, including costs, to call the Floyd County Health Department at 706-295-6123 and ask for adult health.

For more information about PrEP, you may also visit https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/ or https://nwgapublichealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/PrEP-1-for-website.pdf

Rural areas often don’t have nonprofit organizations doing outreach to the community for HIV education or testing, says Cathalene Teahan of the Georgia AIDS Coalition.

Many health departments in Georgia can offer PrEP, Teahan says.

Emory’s Siegler, meanwhile, points to areas where access to this preventive medication can be difficult.

Siegler has developed the PrEP locator, a national database of clinics prescribing PrEP where people can easily locate places in their area that prescribe the medication.

There are many “PrEP deserts,’’ where access to this medication is a long drive away, he says.

“People are usually not willing to travel more than 30 minutes for preventive care,” he adds. One in eight men having sex with men live in what Siegler calls “PrEP deserts.’’

“This disproportionately impacts rural areas,’’ Siegler says.

The dearth of PrEP providers offering services in rural and Southern areas has led him to launch a clinical trial in which men who have sex with men would be linked with a clinician through telemedicine.

“Individuals can do a telemedicine visit through an app,’’ Siegler says. “We are working with pharmacies with electronic prescriptions.’’

In this way, he says, an individual can get clinical help ‘‘in the privacy and comfort of their home.’’

Fire marshal pushes ordinance requiring new construction to obtain rapid access device

Rome Fire Marshal Mary Catherine Chewning dreams of a day when firefighters don’t have to carry massive key rings or waste critical time and fuel idling outside locked buildings when fire alarms go off.

That dream came one step closer to becoming a reality Tuesday after Chewning spoke to Rome City Commission’s Public Safety Committee about drafting an ordinance requiring all new construction to obtain a rapid access program known as KnoxBox.

“I am very excited about this,” Chewning said as she explained the system adopted by 14,000 public agencies nationwide, including Atlanta Fire, Bartow County and the City of Calhoun. “This is a good thing for Rome and Floyd County and could ultimately save lives.”

Chewning told them it would save more than $5,000 per year in fuel costs for the department by cutting down on the amount of time fire trucks are idling outside a building.

Southeastern Mills, Del Taco, Ball Corp., Martin’s Real Estate and Hoyt Hill gated town homes already are on board with the program, which involves a specifically-coded master key kept by the Rome-Floyd Fire Department that would match special lock boxes installed at those locations.

The corresponding KnoxBoxes would contain the properties’ entry keys, enabling firefighters to enter immediately and not have to wait for a property manager or maintenance person to arrive.

“This would go a long way toward reducing response time,” Chewning said. “It will cut down on fire and water damage, decrease insurance claims and rates and truly be a win-win for everyone.”

Howard Gray, property manager for Martin’s Real Estate, said Tuesday he ordered the KnoxBox system for the four-story building at Second Avenue and Broad Street because he wants emergency personnel to be able to access the building when no one is on site.

“I don’t want the fire department to have to bust the door open,” Gray said. “The thing is, they will have their own key to our lock boxes and will have authority to enter based on that code. I definitely feel there is the potential to save money down the road, but the most important thing is being able to get in right away and maybe even save someone’s life.”

Hoyt Hill developer Jack Pearson said the eight new gated town homes off West First Street in downtown Rome will have the KnoxBox system installed next week before residents move in.

Pearson said this was always part of his plan.

“I never want to jeopardize an ambulance from getting up to the property if need be,” he said, adding the security gate will be very hi-tech, allowing residents to access it from a phone app to let people in when they’re out of town.

Public Safety Committee members Craig McDaniel and Randy Quick both said they were impressed with the system Tuesday and liked the fact that a business can order it through the fire department for less than $350.

City Manager Sammy Rich said he’d work on drafting an ordinance they can send to the Rome City Commission. He said later that, while the ordinance wouldn’t require existing buildings to have the system, the city hopes as many current businesses, commercial buildings and gated residential facilities as possible would volunteer to join the program.

Anyone interested in ordering a KnoxBox can contact Chewning directly at 706-591-0025.