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Health director: Spread of COVID-19 now 'community wide', supports decisions being taken to slow infection rate

There is now a clear indication that the spread of COVID-19 is a communitywide issue in this area, according to the director of the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District.

“Everyone should operate under the assumption that there is transmission in your community already,” Dr. Gary Voccio said. “Many people are going to get sick, but based on what we know about this virus, most people will not develop serious illness.”

Public health officials notified Floyd County Schools late Monday that an employee who serves both Alto Park Elementary and Cave Spring Elementary has been confirmed to have COVID-19 and is currently in self-quarantine.

It is important to note that this employee may have come into contact with teachers and students while in attendance at the 5th grade FCS Quiz Bowl event last Tuesday at the Krannert Center at Berry College, spokesperson Lenora McEntire Doss said.

Earlier Monday, Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington said the number of local patients was the same as Sunday’s numbers — six people in local hospitals who have tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly 30 patients awaiting test results.

Both Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Hospital are limiting visitors to the hospital with a few exceptions.

Cartersville Medical Center is also barring visitors, with a few exceptions.

Of the hospital’s five previously reported patients with positive COVID-19, one was transferred and one was discharged to self-quarantine at home. Also, one patient tested negative for COVID-19 and was discharged. There are 60 patients awaiting test results, 30 of which did not require hospitalization and are under self-quarantine.

“Our job now, everyone’s job, is to bear what we’re feeling and act to help protect ourselves and our communities,” Voccio said. “There’s going to be disruption to daily life, but we want people to feel empowered by this. The decisions you make will ultimately affect the trajectory of this outbreak.”

With testing limited, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged people to keep their distance from each other and avoid large gatherings.

The idea is to slow the spread of the virus, also known as “flattening the curve.” Keeping people apart can head off a dramatic spike in the number of infections in a short time. That drastic increase in the curve, such as in a graph, overwhelms the medical community and patients are less likely to get the care they need.

Slowing down the spread

Supporting CDC suggestions, such as postponing or cancelling events with 50 or more people, Voccio said, may slow the infection rate down.

Those who are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 — fever, shortness of breath and cough — should contact their healthcare provider immediately for instructions.

“Please do not go to your healthcare provider without calling ahead,” Voccio urges. “Otherwise, if you’re sick, stay at home.”

There has been some positive news coming out of testing reports recently. Several people have tested negative and one hospitalized person who had tested positive but in stable condition was sent home to self-quarantine on Sunday.

Friends of a Cave Spring Elementary employee who along with his wife tested positive for COVID-19 are saying she’s responding to treatment at an Atlanta-area hospital -- and he's home under self-quarantine.

Floyd County public health officials have notified Floyd County Schools that an employee who serves both Alto Park Elementary and Cave Spring Elementary has been confirmed to have COVID-19 and is currently in self-quarantine.

It is important to note that this employee may have come into contact with teachers and students while in attendance at the 5th grade FCS Quiz Bowl event last Tuesday at the Krannert Center at Berry College.

The Rome News-Tribune is not identifying patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 at this time.

City and county suspend public access to many facilities

Many city and county offices are restricting public access to nonessential governmental buildings.

Cave Spring City Hall closed its doors Monday until further notice. Councilman Tom Lindsey said there’s an outside drop box for water bills. City employees are at work and can be reached at 706-777-3382.

Floyd County restricted access to many offices until March 29. The administrative, extension services and engineering offices as well as the Water Department and Public Animal Welfare Service are closed Tuesday. Parks and Recreation facilities are closed until further notice.

Rome’s emergency, water and transit services will continue functioning but the city is closing public access to all non-emergency facilities through at least March 29.

“All essential city operations and staff including police, fire, water and sewer, sanitation as well as key infrastructure will continue functioning. Emergency services will continue,” a statement released Monday read. “Transit will operate all regular services at this time. However, officials ask riders to please practice CDC-recommended hygiene and germ-spread prevention techniques and social distancing.”

The Floyd County Sheriff’s Office is canceling several events, including the training building dedication and a public meeting concerning the county’s partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The jail is also limiting fingerprint services for criminal justice and fire programs until further notice.

The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority is also closing access to its offices through March 31.

All of the departments can be reached by phone, and water billing can accept payments by phone or online. There is also the myRome app to connect directly with city staff, a statement read. The app is available on iTunes and Google Play.{span class=”print_trim”}

For non-emergency questions, the public can reach the appropriate department at the phone numbers listed below:

City Manager’s Office: 706-236-4400

City Clerk’s Office: 706-236-4460 (Business License and facility rental)

Municipal Court: 706-236-5150 or 706-236-4462

Finance Department: 706-236-4420

Technology Services: 706-236-4445 or 706-236-4446

Purchasing: 706-236-4410

Water Billing: 706-236-4440 or 706-236-4441

HR/Risk Management: 706-236-4450 or 706-236-4452

Building Inspection: 706-236-4480 or 706-236-4481

Fire Department: 706-236-4500

Police Department: 706-238-5101 or 706-238-5111

Police Records: 706-238-5155 or 706-238-5154

Public Works: 706-236-4585 or 706-236-4466

Street Department: 706-378-3859

Engineering: 706-378-3846

Cemetery: 706-236-4534

Landfill: 706-291-4512

Solid Waste: 706-236-4580

Transit: 706-236-4523 or 706-236-5036 or 706-236-5038

Water/Sewer Operations: 706-236-4560, Emergency After-Hours 706-236-4527

Filter Plant: 706-236-4527

Water Reclamation Facility: 706-236-4526

Downtown Development/Parking:706-236-4477

Planning/Zoning: 706-236-5022

The city will continue posting updates on the City Facebook page www.facebook.com/CityofRomeGA and the City website, https://www.romefloyd.com/coronavirus-updates.

Food distribution efforts help families put dinner on the table

Families struggling to put food on their tables are getting help from two different food distribution efforts that start Tuesday.

There will be a one-time, pop-up farmer’s market Tuesday in the Swift and Finch parking lot on Broad Street from 4 to 6 p.m. The market is coordinated through the Between the Rivers Farmers Market and a eight-time distribution of non-perishable foods through HOPE Alliance and the Davies Farm Bus over the next two weeks.

“We want to be clear that we are not trying to duplicate what the schools are doing,” Davies Shelters Executive Director Devon Smyth said Monday. “What HOPE Alliance is doing with the help of the Community Kitchen and AMP (Arts, Music and Purpose Rome) is fill in the gaps during the week when the schools are not providing meals.”

City and county schools both plan to feed children while they are closed for two weeks due to coronavirus concerns. However, they are only planning on doing so three times a week.

Thanks to a food drive Saturday at Rome First United Methodist Church, there are now 70 boxes of non-perishable food that will be handed out throughout the next two weeks from the Davies Farm Bus to anyone who needs them.

Smyth stressed the local Salvation Army also has been instrumental in these efforts, helping provide critical supplies for HOPE Alliance. 

"They provided the boxes, the peanut butter and meals," Smyth said. "They are champions!" 

Those distributions will be:

♦ Tuesday, March 17 & 24, 10 to 11 a.m. at Second Avenue Baptist Church, 823 E. Second Ave.

♦ Tuesday, March 17 & 24, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at West Rome Baptist Church, 914 Shorter Ave.

♦ Thursday, March 19 & 27, 10 to 11 a.m., the the corner of East Main and Glover streets (across from Anna K. Davie Elementary).

♦ Thursday, March 19 & 27, 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. at North Broad Baptist Church, 1309 Broad St.

The boxes contain pasta meals, cans of vegetables, cans of fruit, canned spaghetti or stew, boxes of mac and cheese, a hot or cold instant breakfast item and snack packs, Smyth said.

She said if anyone else wants to donate food items, they can bring them to the Community Kitchen between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. over the next two weeks.

“We promise we will pack those items and get them out to people,” she said.

The March 17 pop-up farmer’s market coordinated by Elisabeth Lawson at 600 Broad St. will offer meats, cheeses, eggs, produce, greens and bread from the farms.

“It will be with just the local farmers to provide fresh food to people in this time of food uncertainty,” Lawson said Monday. “This will be a safer environment as it will have fewer people and will be in an open area.”

Nolan Cash, a second-grader at Model Elementary School

County schools feed 910 students on first day of emergency feeding program

The Floyd County Board of Education held a virtual meeting Monday, on Google Hangouts, to discuss the results of the first day of the emergency feeding program due to the coronavirus school closures.

Floyd County Schools gave out over 3,000 meals, according to Donna Carver, the head of child nutrition. This served the equivalent of 910 students, since each received four meals — to last until Wednesday.

“It didn’t start out as smoothly as we’d like,” said Carver. “We were a little late getting started.”

While most schools had enough food, there weren’t enough meals for the parents who picked up their children’s lunches from Alto Park Elementary, and there were just enough meals at Cave Spring Elementary.

“We underestimated,” said Carver. However, she said she plans to send enough to feed about 200 kids at every feeding site. That means 800 meals going to each site. Despite a few hiccups, Carver said the nutrition team is proud to have fed almost 1,000 students.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” she said. “We had some rocky spots, but I think we’ll be ready on Wednesday and we’ll go at it again.”

All of the meals are free to the students, but it isn’t coming without cost to the school system. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has said it would fund the feeding program, but provided no immediate details.

“Some of it might get reimbursed from the federal government,” said Superintendent Jeff Wilson. “We’re just not sure how much yet until we get it figured out with the feds.”

The system normally takes in about $20,000 a day in lunch charges, according to Chief Financial Officer Greg Studdard.

The school system, however, did receive an unexpected check for close to $2 million from property taxes. Wilson said that was good news.

The school board also approved on Monday the estimated $148,000 replacement of an HVAC system in Glenwood Primary. Last year, according to the executive director of facilities Jack Gardner, the system spent $40,000 to revamp the HVAC.

The plan to replace it is to install individual “mini-splitter” air conditioners, which are about the size of a suitcase. The board was urged to approve the work now, since students are out of school for an extended period of time.

Local lawmakers back emergency declaration

Local lawmakers said Monday they’re confident that giving Gov. Brian Kemp broad emergency powers is the right move to deal with the rapidly escalating threat from the novel coronavirus.

The Georgia General Assembly spent the day hammering out a joint, bipartisan resolution ratifying Kemp’s public health emergency declaration. It gives the governor executive authority to do things like limit the size of public gatherings — a step the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending — and restrict travel.

“This is a critical time,” said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome. “We have the opportunity to get ahead of this, and if everyone takes appropriate action we will stay ahead of it.”

Legislators had “lengthy discussions” regarding the extent of the declaration, Rep. Eddie Lumsden noted.

The Armuchee Republican said the House initially wanted the document to expire in 30 days, but the Senate was concerned that — if the situation worsened — the General Assembly might not be able to muster a quorum to ratify an extension.

In the end, the April 13 date was removed but an accompanying letter calls for Kemp to convene a special session then to reassess the situation.

“This was a discussion about clearly understanding Legislative and Executive authority,” Lumsden said.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said that, while it doesn’t limit the governor’s emergency powers, it makes the lawmakers’ intentions clear.

“There were some realities to be considered,” she noted.

Dempsey said the action by Kemp and the General Assembly is unprecedented in the history of the state.

“But I feel strongly that, with the number of (COVID-19) cases ... we’ve taken the prudent and proactive steps necessary for the health of Georgians,” she said.

Hufstetler said the governor has assembled a broad coalition of experts to deal with the pandemic — and he’s a member of the new primary care working group. The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is an anesthetist at a local hospital and has been in the forefront of state healthcare initiatives for several years.

“The action today temporarily gives (Kemp) the ability to cut red tape and take immediate action with all available resources,” Hufstetler said. “He has personally assured me he will not overreach and I am confident in his ability to manage this unprecedented health crisis in Georgia.”

Kemp called up as many as 2,000 members of the Georgia National Guard during the weekend to work with local governments to ensure adequate supplies of medical equipment, food and shelter.

Later on Monday, he signed an executive order closing all public school in the state from Wednesday through March 31. Rome and Floyd County public schools have already closed voluntarily.

Unlike the political conflicts that typify the 40-day regular sessions, legislative leaders called for and got bipartisanship in ratifying Kemp’s powers on Monday.

“Now is the time for us to speak with one voice and act with one heart,” Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the longest serving member of the state House of Representatives, told his colleagues from the House podium.