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Area healthcare providers suspend nonessential surgeries, coroner confirms death of Floyd County woman

Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor has confirmed the identity of the woman who died from a COVID-19 related illness Thursday night.

Elizabeth Eugenia Wells, 65, a resident of an apartment complex off Woodrow Wilson Way in West Rome was admitted to Redmond Regional Medical Center on March 7 and tested for COVID-19 on March 12.

Her listed cause of death was respiratory failure from complications of COVID-19.

"Redmond confirms that one patient who tested positive for COVID-19, has passed," said the hospital's spokesperson Andrea Pitts ina statement. "Out of respect for the family and the privacy of the patient, we have no additional details to share. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family."

The Department of Public Health listed 10 deaths Thursday in the state and 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide. That's a significant jump in the numbers of both deaths and confirmed cases. Wednesday at noon the state agency reported one death, later amending that total to 3, and 197 confirmed cases.

The number of cases surged statewide, mostly in the metro-Atlanta area. Floyd County's number remained 6 with Bartow County's number increasing to 26.

Members of the Church at Liberty Square posted on their Facebook page several memorials for Wells, who was a member of their congregation.

"This virus is no joke," Proctor said. "Anyone with a compromised immune system and over the age of 60 is in danger from this. They need to take all precautions to avoid this."

Two other members of the church, a Cave Spring Elementary employee and his wife, are recovering. The church choir Facebook page is filled with support for members who tested positive for coronavirus.

State epidemiologists earlier canvassed the Cartersville church regarding two Sunday morning services — March 1 and March 8. Another member of the church spoke on CNN last week regarding his condition.

Non-essential surgeries rescheduled

Local healthcare providers announced Thursday they're rescheduling nonessential surgeries and procedures.

"Hospital and healthcare leaders across Northwest Georgia are working collaboratively to respond to the increasing presence of COVID-19 in Northwest Georgia," a realease stated. "Following the guidelines from both the U.S. Surgeon General and the American College of Surgeons, effective immediately, AdventHealth, Cartersville Medical Center, Floyd Health System, Harbin Clinic and Redmond Regional Medical Center are beginning the process of rescheduling non-essential surgeries and procedures."

Surgeries and emergency procedures will continue uninterrupted, the release stated.

The move is also aimed at conserving resources as medical professionals are seeing a reduced supply of protective equipment.

"The elimination of nonessential and elective surgeries and procedures will also ensure the most time sensitive and medically necessary care can be prioritized and delivered quickly," the release stated.

Schools to remain closed

Floyd County Schools announced today they would remain closed through April 10. At this point Rome City Schools are closed until April 6.

FCS has also canceled all field trips scheduled for the remainder of the school year.

"Details on refunds will be made available to families as soon as they are determined," said FCS spokesperson Lenora McEntire Doss in a release. "School-sponsored events will be postponed or canceled for the duration of the closures."

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With the limited number of tests available for COVID-19, determining who to test is key.

“We are focusing on our highest-risk individuals, particularly the elderly and nursing home residents, as well as those who, if they had the virus, would dramatically impact many individuals in the entire community. These include healthcare workers, first responders, and teachers,” said Dr. Gary Voccio, the health director of the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District.

The first part of testing is the collection of swabs for those most at risk, the second is sending those specimens off to the Georgia Public Health Lab or a private laboratory.

“We wish we had more overall specimen collection and testing capability, and that’s coming, but right now, specimen collection for testing is only for people meeting specific criteria who have been evaluated by their physician and received an ID number,” Voccio said.

In the region, and in Rome, the agency has set up temporary collection sites for those fitting those criteria.

He stressed that they are not collecting specimens to test for the virus from the general community at this time. People will be referred to the DPH by their healthcare provider.

The number of people who test positive is increasing not only because of additional infections but also because there are more tests available.

The total confirmed positives for COVID-19 over the state — mostly concentrated in Fulton, Cobb, Bartow and DeKalb counties — was at 197 Wednesday.

Floyd County has six cases confirmed by the state, however since it’s a regional healthcare hub, people from neighboring counties often will come here for treatment.

Numbers of confirmed cases on the Georgia DPH website reflect the county in which a person is a resident, not necessarily where they’re receiving treatment.

Locally, there were five people receiving treatment as of 1 p.m. Wednesday who have tested positive for COVID-19. There were 34 people who had been tested but were awaiting confirmation from the CDC for verification of a positive or negative result.

One person who was being treated had transferred to another medical facility.

New cases are continuing to emerge. The U.S. District Court in Rome was closed Wednesday until further notice after a security officer was hospitalized after feeling ill.

The officer was on duty in the federal courthouse on the week preceding his hospitalization, the order stated, and during that period was feeling ill. The order stated that, since it will be several days before COVID-19 can be confirmed as the illness, the building will be closed until further notice.

Emory Healthcare announced Wednesday evening that a patient died with COVID-19.

Two people in Southwest Georgia died after contracting the novel coronavirus and receiving treatment at Phoebe Putney Memorial in Albany, hospital officials confirmed Wednesday.

The deaths brought the total number of known fatalities traced to COVID-19 to four in Georgia. A 67-year-old man with underlying health conditions died last week at Wellstar’s Kennestone hospital in Marietta.

In a news release, Phoebe Putney officials said 23 people had tested positive for the respiratory virus as of noon Wednesday while more than 400 others were awaiting the results of their tests.

The hospital’s chief medical officer, Steven Kitchen, said to expect more positive cases and deaths as the virus spreads within Georgia communities.

“Unfortunately, more deaths are likely to occur, and we will certainly see more positive cases as we receive more test results,” Kitchen said. “We strongly urge everyone to heed warnings and practice proper social distancing. We need to do all we can now to try to slow the spread of the virus.”

Elisia Castillo, a third-grader at Alto Park Elementary School

Sherwood Baptist Church provides food for over 100 families in the midst of outbreak

During a time of uncertainty, Sherwood Baptist Church is providing families in need with groceries and continuing their ministry with Hope for the Hungry.

Hope for the Hungry is a ministry based out of First Redeemer Church in Cumming.

Sherwood began partnering with the ministry back in June 2018 to help provide groceries to families in need in the Rome and Floyd County area.

“Over the course of our partnership, we’ve been able to provide food for nearly 2,000 families,” Chris Hayes said.

Hayes is the pastor at Sherwood Baptist Church and hosts the food line on the third Tuesday of each month at the church on Goodman Road.

This past Tuesday, Sherwood Baptist gave out over 3,675 pounds of boxed food. Of the 147 families that received boxes, 100 of them were first timers. Along with the boxed food, the church also gave out 2,500 pounds of potatoes to the families.

Hope for the Hungry partners with Atlanta Food Bank and other Atlanta area food banks for the drives.

“Every day of the week, they have trucks going out to different locations,” Hayes said.

The large amount of potatoes came from a tractor trailer that had recently wrecked.

“The cargo was fine, but the grocery stores have to reject it because it was in an accident,” Hayes said.

“The owner of the food company contacted Hope for the Hungry ... and they are able to provide not only food that comes from the food bank, but also anything else that comes that way.”

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, social distancing — staying away from crowded areas to avoid contact with others — has been heavily advised by several health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The church minimized contact by having families stay in their cars when registering for a box and when receiving the box.

“We’re taking the best precautions we possibly can,” Hayes said.

The pastor said they will continue this ministry through the next couple of months, unless something changes.

For those who wish to receive groceries and participate in the program, Hope for the Hungry is at Sherwood Baptist every third Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. All participants need to do is show up and talk to one of the volunteers about receiving a box.

Former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property may be part of state response to the coronavirus outbreak

Gov. Brian Kemp has set up advisory committees to prepare for an expected escalation in COVID-19 cases — and Sen. Chuck Hufstetler has a role in the coordinated effort.

The Rome Republican is an anesthetist at a local hospital. His critical care experience led to his appointment on a committee chaired by Dr. Ben Watson, a Republican senator from Savannah, along with two other senators in the medical field.

“We are the primary care committee,” Hufstetler said Wednesday, adding that Kemp has other advisory groups focused on issues such as long-term care and small business assistance.

“They are trying to segment the response, so nobody is overwhelmed. I think that’s a good strategy for Georgia,” Hufstetler said.

One focus is on setting up a network of facilities throughout the state where COVID-19 patients can be isolated for treatment if hospitals get full.

Hufstetler said officials have been out to evaluate the closed Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome.

“If there is a surge, the state is looking at having eight surge hospitals ready,” Hufstetler said. “This is 150 acres, with secured fencing, and they’ve kept it in pretty good shape.”

Local officials have been aware of the possibility for some time now and discussed it during a meeting earlier this week.

Floyd County Commission Chair Scotty Hancock is the county’s former emergency management agency director and now works as outreach and EMS director for Redmond Regional Medical Center.

“I think the state could ramp it up pretty quick, to tell you the truth,” Hancock said about NWGRH.

The activation would be out of local control, he noted. While some residents might have concerns, the hospital was once used as a tuberculosis treatment facility — during a widespread outbreak of that contagious disease.

“There’s got to be negative pressure rooms,” Hancock said, referring to rooms that allow fresh air in but keep the contaminated air contained.

The state is putting a 20-unit quarantine facility next to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth. It’s for people who have tested positive but don’t need to be hospitalized and are not able to shelter in place.

Seven mobile units also have been placed at Hard Labor Creek State Park in Morgan County.

Hufstetler said Georgia has received a shipment of equipment from the federal government that is being distributed to hospitals according to need.

The shipment included 100,000 of the heavy-duty N95 masks that are currently in short supply. It also contained 10 pallets of medical face shields; 10,000 gloves; 25,000 gowns; 26,000 shoe covers and 1,000 goggles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has relaxed some of the rules for protective gear healthcare workers must use when treating infected patients.

“It’s a matter of prioritizing,” Hufstetler said. “We will probably see more of that.”

For now, he said, the state response is on track and there is a fund balance to draw from as needed.

“The federal government is helping and we will probably get reimbursed for a lot, but we’re not waiting on them. We’re actively trying to get ahead of this,” Hufstetler said.

Family celebrates granddad's 97th birthday through facility window

Usually on St. Patrick’s Day, Rena Drummond and her family celebrate her granddad’s birthday at his favorite restaurant, Captain D’s.

This year, however, is his first year in a healthcare facility in Rome. This year is also different because that healthcare facility has stopped allowing visitors because of healthcare concerns.

So instead of the normal routine, Drummond and a few other family members stopped by the facility and had a birthday party through his window.

“We went to his window and made signs with balloons,” Drummond said. “We celebrated, and took a Bluetooth speaker and played his favorite song, ‘Amazing Grace,’ through the window.”

While she has been disappointed that she hasn’t been able to physically hug him and see him face to face, she said she understands the need for precautions.

“It’s hard to be separated from family,” Drummond said.

Her granddad is 97, which means he falls in a high risk category if he were to contract COVID-19.

“We are very thankful for the protective measures,” she said. “With his age, he’s definitely high risk. We’re thankful, but we’re sad at the same time. We definitely understand and we are thankful.”

The facility stopped allowing visitors last week, Drummond recalled. It was around the same time local schools announced their extended closures due to concerns about the novel coronavirus. She said she doesn’t expect the facility to reopen for visitors until the global concerns of coronavirus are at ease.

The visit, while not the usual, was definitely an emotional experience for the family.

“There were several nurses inside that were singing with us,” she said. “It definitely brought smiles to him and tears to us. I don’t even know why I wore makeup because I was crying.”