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Kemp calls early November special legislative session for redistricting

ATLANTA — The General Assembly will meet Nov. 3 to begin a special session to redraw Georgia’s congressional and legislative districts.

Gov. Brian Kemp announced the date for the session in a proclamation late Thursday.

Under Georgia law, the legislature must adopt new district boundaries every 10 years to account for population shifts reflected in the U.S. Census.

Two legislative committees, one from the Georgia House of Representatives and one from the state Senate, held hearings across the state during the summer to gather public feedback ahead of drawing the new maps.

Lawmakers heard an earful from representatives of civil rights and voting rights groups calling for new district lines that accurately reflect population gains by minority groups during the last decade.

But if the past is any indication, the party in control of the General Assembly – in this case, the Republicans – will draw maps aimed at regaining losses during the last two election cycles in both the legislature and the state’s congressional delegation.

With dramatic growth having occurred in metro Atlanta and some parts of North Georgia since 2010, the maps also are expected to shift more legislative districts north of Interstate 20. Rural counties in the southern half of the Peach State likely will see a reduction in the number of districts, reflecting losses in population sustained by those areas.

Among other things, lawmakers during the special session also will be asked to ratify executive orders Kemp issued in May to suspend the collection of state gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. The governor acted after the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline disrupted fuel supplies.

However, the special session will not include legislative proposals to address the crime wave that has hit Georgia during the past 18 months. Kemp had indicated in July that he planned to put crime on the agenda for the special session.

Also absent will be discussion of whether the state should expand its Medicaid program to cover more uninsured Georgians. Democrats have been calling for adding Medicaid to the special session agenda, but the governor has consistently opposed the idea due to the costs.

The special session likely will run at least into the week of Thanksgiving. The last redistricting special session, which took place in 2010, lasted for two and a half weeks.

Compassionate Paws' 'Pet Walk' takes place Saturday on Mount Berry Trails

Area pet lovers are encouraged to bring their pets for a very special walk on Saturday on the Mount Berry Trail.

Local nonprofit Compassionate Paws Inc. is organizing a walk with therapy animals and pets in honor of Pet Partners’ fourth annual World’s Largest Pet Walk.

On that day, people around the world will get out their walking shoes, grab their leashes and head outside for a walk that encourages everyone to enjoy the health benefits of being active with their pets.

“We encourage all members of the community to join us in support of the World’s Largest Pet Walk,” said D’Ann Downey, president of Compassionate Paws. “Bring your pet, and if you don’t have one, we have therapy animals you can walk with.

“The human-animal bond is a very real connection that can mentally and physically impact our well-being for the better,” she added. “The idea that our pets can encourage us to get out and be more active than we might otherwise be is something to be celebrated.”

Compassionate Paws is a community partner of Pet Partners. The local group takes therapy animals to visit area hospitals and assisted living facilities, participates in community events, visits local colleges and participates in the Read with Me program in schools and libraries.

The walk will take place Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at the Mount Berry Trail behind the post office on Martha Berry Highway.

There is no registration fee to walk, but Pet Partners encourages supporters to fundraise in honor of their participation. More information can be found online at p2p.onecause.com/wlpw. Funds raised through the World’s Largest Pet Walk support Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Program which is made up of therapy animal teams who bring comfort and joy to members of the public, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, libraries, airports, and at workplace well-being events. Pet Partners teams make more than 3 million visits per year.

Those interested in becoming a Pet Partner can email D’Ann Downey at ddowneywarley@comcast.net or visit online at www.romepaws.org. The organization is always in need of new pet partner teams.

Colton Milsap, a student at Model Elementary School

Ossoff, GOP’s Grassley team on opioid epidemic legislation

ATLANTA — In a nation’s capital seemingly more hopelessly split by intense partisan rhetoric than ever, Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley from Iowa have introduced a bill designed to help rural communities fight the opioid epidemic.

On Wednesday, Ossoff and Grassley introduced the Rural Opioid Abuse Prevention Act, which they said would help ensure rural communities experiencing a high level of opioid overdoses have the resources they need to respond to the crisis.

The program aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths in high-risk rural communities while raising awareness about local opioid use and substance abuse.

“Like so many Georgians, I’ve lost friends to the opioid epidemic,” Ossoff said. “My bipartisan bill with Sen. Grassley will fund efforts in rural communities to prevent and treat addiction and to save lives.”

“We’ve made some progress in fighting the opioid crisis, but with overdose deaths rising, Congress needs to act,” Grassley said. “Our bill will help communities in Iowa and across the country to prevent and handle any surge in opioid overdoses.

The two senators said their bill would:

Identify current gaps in prevention, treatment, and recovery services for individuals who interact with the criminal justice system in rural areas.

Increase or create new efforts to address the opioid crisis in the community.

Dedicate funding to local governments and organizations with a documented history of providing services to rural communities or regions highly impacted by substance abuse.

Several national health and law enforcement praised the senators’ effort.

“This legislation will help rural communities across the nation receive grant funding to reduce opioid deaths by formalizing the Department of Justice rural responses to the opioid epidemic initiative,” said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen, it is critical that the federal government continues to invest in successful programs that help save lives, particularly in rural areas.”

“The opioid epidemic in rural America is unprecedented in our history,” according to a statement from the Small & Rural Law Enforcement Executives’ Association. “Many lives have been lost and families torn apart. Rural and tribal communities across our country continue to struggle with this epidemic and the COVID pandemic has made the drug overdose epidemic worse.”

“Rural and tribal law enforcement are dealing with an increase in overdoses from illicit fentanyl, prescription opioids and heroin. Passing the Rural Opioid Abuse Prevention Act would provide resources to help rural communities combat opioid overdoses and provide alternatives to incarceration.”

“Additional substance abuse and addiction resources are desperately needed in all communities but particularly in rural communities where services and resources are lacking,” the Partnership to End Addiction wrote. “We hope this program will help to reduce the devastation of opioid overdoses on individuals and their families in rural communities.”

'All the science was already in place': Former CDC fellow answers questions about COVID-19 vaccines

Existing COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and are based on long established science, a former CDC researcher told Rome Rotary on Thursday.

“One of the reasons why (the COVID-19) vaccines could be produced so quickly is because all this basic science was already in place at the start of the pandemic,” said Trudy Rey, who has a PhD in molecular genetics and biochemistry and writes for the Virology Blog.

Rey, who now works as a patent agent specializing in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and medical device patents, worked on vaccine development as a postdoctoral fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The question: Why was it so easy to develop this vaccine? The answer: All the science was already in place.

In a series of YouTube videos, Rey speaks about a number of topics including mixing and matching vaccines, false information concerning vaccines and outright conspiracies involving the origin of the virus.

First off, vaccines aren’t intended to prevent a virus, she said, they’re meant to protect a person from severe disease, hospitalization and death.

It’s important to recognize the difference between a disease and the infection caused by a virus. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

Infection happens when the virus enters the body and begins to multiply. Disease comes from the damage done to your body and cells, often shown when symptoms of an illness appear.

Question: Will those vaccinated get infected? The answer, Rey said, is yes, but it’s much more complicated than that. When a person gets vaccinated they also develop a high level of antibodies that fight the virus.

That lasts for a time but the level eventually begins to decrease, which is natural.

“Antibodies are supposed to go down, otherwise we’d be walking lymph nodes,” she said.

The immune system is just that — a system of layered defenses that fight against disease. Even when those antibodies decline, portions of the system with longer memories still kill the infection. That’s why those who are vaccinated have milder cases of the disease.

However, there are those who need the additional antibodies to fight off the virus itself, prior to it becoming a disease. That’s why the FDA is recommending a third dose of the vaccine for those who are over 65, immunocompromised or suffer from other medical conditions.

Question: Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe for children? Yes, she said. The question isn’t whether or not the vaccines are safe at this point. Rather, the testing is to determine the appropriate dosage for younger children.

Question: Should a person get vaccinated after they’ve had COVID-19? Yes, the current recommendation from the CDC is that those who’ve recovered from the disease should still get the shots.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weekly report published in August references a study that showed unvaccinated individuals are more than twice as likely to be re-infected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus.

“These data further indicate that COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone and that vaccines, even after prior infection, help prevent reinfections,” the report states.