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Doctors tell city, county commissions of low morale and staffing difficulties as COVID-19 surge continues

As three more Floyd County residents were listed among the 200-plus others who’ve died as the result of COVID-19 Thursday, city and county commissioners met with local doctors to discuss the surge of infections and hospitalizations.

Representatives from Harbin Clinic, Floyd Medical Center, Redmond Regional Medical Center and the Department of Public Health urged people to use the tools available to slow the spread of the pandemic.

“This week we lost a 13-year-old to a vaccine-preventable illness,” said Harbin Clinic Chief Medical Officer Dr. Charles McBride. “This is something that is preventable.”

All spoke of the massive patient influx since early July from the highly infectious Delta variant. They also spoke about the fact that most of those patients had not been vaccinated.

Floyd Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ken Jones said that, of their COVID-19 patients, 9% had gotten a vaccination and 91% of those patients were unvaccinated.

Looking at those percentages, he said, that means if the community was vaccinated he’d estimate they’d have just 10 patients infected with COVID-19 during a peak infection season.

Another factor that has changed: the number of infected young people has doubled in the past four weeks, according to Dr. Gary Voccio, director of the Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest District. Prior to the start of school, the number of young people infected was negligible.

It’s still a small percentage of total cases, around 2% he said, but prior to this surge it was somewhere around 0.4%.

No action was taken at the joint meeting, but both city and county commissions strongly encouraged people to get vaccinated.

“Rome is the medical hub of Northwest Georgia,” Mayor Craig McDaniel said. “If this had been 30 years ago, prior to Facebook, I think the vaccination rate would have been higher.”

“Instead of listening to doctors and listening to the media, they go on social media,” McDaniel said. “We are faced with this problem we have because of social media. People are not making sound judgment.”

Staffing problems, low morale

Vaccine hesitancy isn’t just something that infects the general public.

Dr. Julie Barnes, chief medical officer at Redmond, said the hospital staffing level is currently around 52%. Dr. Jones said FMC is currently at around 50% and Dr. McBride said Harbin’s rate was around 69%.

In the ranks of the vaccinated, physicians for each of the organizations are represented at a much higher rate.

McBride said that 99% of the clinic’s physicians are 100% vaccinated and “one is halfway there.”

Stemming from lower vaccination rates in other employees, each of the healthcare organizations reported they are facing abysmally low morale and are understaffed.

“Folks need to understand what exactly is being asked of the healthcare sector. Our morale is at an all time low,” McBride said. People are shunning medical advice “in favor of ‘internet experts’” who lack any training or medical knowledge, he said.

There is a ripple effect. When people need routine care, those resources have been exhausted by the pandemic.

“We’re currently losing 7 or 8 nurses each week, which is devastating,” Barnes said. During a previous surge they were granted nurses through the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, but have so far been denied.

Because people aren’t getting vaccinated or following COVID-19 protocols, like they did during the first wave, it’s taking a toll on the staff and resources.

“Specifically, oxygen delivery at our facilities is at 300% of the norm,” Barnes said. “From a supply standpoint, oxygen is our greatest risk right now.”

Even if we are near the peak of new infections, the peak of hospitalizations has yet to follow, McBride said. And the deaths follow 2 to 4 weeks after that peak.

“Vaccines are the way we’re going to get out of this,” Dr. Voccio said. “This vaccine is effective, clearly effective against COVID.”

'We have to give them something to do': Committee hears suggestions concerning youths downtown

In response to what city leaders feel is a recurring situation, large groups of young people roving downtown, the Rome Public Safety Committee sought suggestions from the community.

To start off the discussion, City Commissioner Bonny Askew said they intend to form a task force in order to study the issue, and potentially come up with a solution.

“We don’t want to stop the people from gathering downtown,” Askew said. “What we want is something positive for them to do when they are downtown.”

Several people spoke at the called meeting at the City Auditorium on Thursday evening, including downtown residents and religious leaders.

“I think we have some options to find creative ways for young people to hang out,” said First Methodist Church Rev. Robert Brown. He asked that with the creation of a task force, young people be involved in determining the path the city takes.

As they discussed the issue, the committee showed several Rome Police Department bodycam videos of an incident late on Saturday, Aug. 14, when large groups of youths were gathered at the Town Green and several fights broke out.

As police officers attempted to get the crowd to disperse, other youths wandered into the area in large groups.

“Seeing that video, that’s how I grew up,” said Ira Levy, a developer with several properties downtown. The difference, he said, is they had things to do when he was a teenager.

“What’s the solution?” Looking around, he continued, “I don’t see any kids in the audience. ... What do they want? What are they looking for?”

“Having 200 to 300 kids come downtown on Broad Street — there’s nothing for them to do,” Levy said. “You’ve got to sit down and talk to them.”

Lovejoy Baptist Church Pastor Carey Ingram said he went downtown to see the issue himself.

“There are too many teenagers out without adult supervision, that’s what I saw,” he said. He suggested movies in areas they’re not generally shown, near neighborhoods, such as at Parks Hoke Park in South Rome.

Tony Hill, the owner of the Sugar Spot Barber Shop in North Rome, said he’d been the barber for about half the kids in the video. He suggested the city needs to work toward finding a way find a way to reach out to the youths.

“There’s a gym in a Black neighborhood that you charge them to go to,” he said. “There’s nothing, nothing, nothing, for these kids to do. We have to get them something.”

Hill said they used to be able to go to the Q-stick or play at the arcade at the Riverbend Mall, but there’s nothing now.

He was among the numerous attendees who applauded the cool heads of the officers who responded to the incident.

“Thank you to the Rome Police Department,” he said. “That could have ended up differently.”

He suggested a group of community members to help watch the kids while they were downtown.

“We have to do something ASAP,” he said.

No resolutions were made or action taken during the meeting.

Dawson Knight, a student at Model Elementary School

Quarry proposed for 700-acre site in Bartow; residents group opposing the $40 million project

A new quarry proposed for a 715-acre site in Adairsville has residents mobilizing to stop it, just over a year after they shut down a similar project.

The rejected Yellowstone mining operation, however, was near Barnsley Resort.

The proposed Georgia Stone Products limestone mine would abut the existing Vulcan Materials Co. quarry on Mitchell Road. The undeveloped property, off Ga. 140 east of Interstate 75, is currently zoned as an agricultural district.

Cumming-based Georgia Stone Products said it would be seeking a rezoning of the entire site, although the notice of a Development of Regional Impact states the operation would take up just 40 acres, including the scales, office and shop. The concrete plant would cover about 6 acres.

A group called NoQuarry140 launched a petition on change.org that had garnered close to 1,400 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

“This is not in a commercial area of Bartow. It is very close to the Adares neighborhood as well as many farms, single family residences and churches,” the site notes.

They’re urging opponents to contact members of the Bartow County Planning Commission. A prominent post on the planning commission’s website indicates the complaints are already on their radar. It notes that the rezoning application is not complete and can not be heard before the October meeting at the earliest.

The DRI filed by Georgia Stone Products states that the aggregate limestone quarry would “supply construction materials that are vital to economic sustainability and growth.”

It’s a $40 million project expected to generate more than $10 million a year in local tax revenue, according to the company’s projections.

Plans are to have the quarry operational by June 2022 and, at that point, there could be as many as 365 vehicle trips a day in and out of the site. The quarry would use only about 1,000 gallons of water a day from the Bartow system. Sewer service is not available there, so wastewater would be handled by a septic system.

Part of the property is in a floodplain — of Dry Creek — but the DRI notice states that it’s just a small percentage of the land, on the east side.

“Development does not propose to disturb identified floodplain areas,” the filing states.

Residents have voiced concerns about the gravel trucks, the dust from the blasts, and the potential effect of the mining operation on the groundwater, plants, animals and property values.

The site is on the south side of Ga. 140, near Siniard Road

Rome City Schools masking at all schools upon return from holiday, Floyd County sticking with current policy

When Rome City Schools returns from an extended Labor Day holiday, all schools will observe measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including masking and taking lunches in classrooms.

Floyd County Schools will continue with its current policy.

All city school campuses will remain in what they term as “Phase Two” for a minimum of two weeks.

The city school board determined that if the number of COVID-19 infections exceeded a 1% student population margin that school would enter Phase Two and observe COVID-19 prevention measures. They’ll then reevaluate that plan after the two weeks.

As of Thursday all Rome City Schools exceeded that 1% margin.

Floyd County Schools Superintendent Glenn White said he hopes the four-day weekend will allow for all COVID-19 positive students and faculty to recover and be back in school on Tuesday.

Under the county school system’s policy, once a school’s student population goes over a 2% infection rate, they must adopt a mask mandate. If the infection rate is over 5%, that school will go virtual.

As of Thursday at 4:30 p.m., Armuchee High School and Pepperell High School had over 2% of their student populations testing positive.

Armuchee Middle School will return to in-person classes next week following a week of virtual learning.

Coosa High and Coosa Middle schools briefly adopted face coverings this week after a 13-year-old student died from COVID-19 at his home on Wednesday.