Armuchee Middle School will shift to virtual classes for next week after the percentage of students surpassed a 5% mark set by the Floyd County Board of Education last week.
Three other schools in the county school system will continue to wear masks and take other precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19 — Armuchee High, Coosa High and Coosa Middle.
In the city school system five of the six elementary schools — West End, West Central, East Central, Elm Street and Main — have all shifted to what the Rome City Schools refer to as Phase Two.
That means students will wear masks to school and take their lunches in their classrooms, rather than in a cafeteria.
Once the number of students and staff moves above a 1% margin of population for COVID-19 infections, the individual school moves into Phase Two of their three-phase plan. Phase Three means the school will shift to virtual classes.
In the county the decision is made on a weekly basis, with an announcement on Friday concerning how the next week will be conducted.
In the past seven days there have been 137 COVID-19 infections reported at Floyd County Schools and 72 new infections reports in Rome City Schools.
Cases of COVID-19 in Georgia have surged to levels not seen since the virus peaked last January, a public health expert warned this week.
New cases statewide are nearing 8,000 a day, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Of Georgians being tested for COVID-19, 17.2% are turning up positive, Dr. Janet Memark, district health director for Cobb & Douglas Public Health, said Thursday during an online forum sponsored by the Georgia House Democratic Caucus. The community is considered safe when fewer than 5% of test results are positive, she said.
Memark blamed the delta variant, which is much more contagious than the original strain of coronavirus that first struck Georgia in March of last year.
“It is just really rampant now throughout our communities,” she said.
Memark said many hospitals are being strained, with unvaccinated Georgians making up the vast majority of rising patient loads.
“We are seeing some breakthrough cases,” she said. “But they’re not being hospitalized or dying. The vaccine is working.”
Dr. Carlos del Rio, a leading epidemiologist at Emory University, said a person who contracts the delta variant of COVID-19 can infect up to eight others, making it much more dangerous than the original strain, which typically can infect two to three people exposed to someone with the virus.
“The virus we’re facing today is very different from the original virus,” he said. “This is so highly transmissible, it’s not the COVID we knew a year ago.”
Memark said another disturbing aspect of the current stage of COVID-19 is that it’s hitting children. In Georgia, cases involving children between the ages of 11 and 17 have doubled in the last week, she said.
The COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Pfizer won formal approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week. However, that approval did not extend to children.
Del Rio said he expects researchers will have a vaccine available for kids by November or December.
Meanwhile, he said he’s concerned that COVID fatigue is causing Georgians to let down their guard at a dangerous time.
“We are in a major surge right now, yet the restaurants are full,” he said. “Everybody is acting as if nothing is going on.”
Hospitals in Floyd County and across the state have been flooded with a mass of unvaccinated patients.
Floyd Medical Center CEO Kurt Stuenkel has urged people to get vaccinated.
“If folks have questions or deeply held beliefs, they need to go talk to a physician,” Stuenkel said. “Our team is doing a really great job dealing with this surge but we need people to step up as numbers continue to surge.”
Del Rio said while vaccines are the best defense against COVID-19, including the delta variant, people still need to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
“People are very tired. I understand that,” he said. “We all want this to be over. [But] it’s not going to be over when we want.”
Georgia passed the 1 million mark in cases of coronavirus last week and was up to 1,056,788 cases as of Thursday afternoon. The virus has hospitalized 71,862 Georgians and resulted in 22,492 confirmed or probable deaths.
The pristine white Rome-Floyd Fire Department training tower won’t stay that way for long.
The multi-level training tower will be used to train firefighters in a variety of situations about the chaos of responding to a fully-involved building.
Rome-Floyd Fire Chief Troy Brock thanked a number of city and county agencies who all worked together to make the training tower construction a success.
The partnership of Rome and Floyd County to make this kind of project happen is a model for other areas in the state, Floyd County Commission Chair Wright Bagby said.
“This is a beautiful building Troy, I can’t believe you’re going to set it on fire,” Bagby said.
The project was funded by the 2013 and 2017 special purpose local option sales tax packages.
“This is one of the best testimonies of why you need to pass a SPLOST package,” Rome Mayor Craig McDaniel said during the ribbon cutting.
From adjustable spaces to trap doors and roof and attic spaces, the building caters to a variety of scenarios that will test a training firefighter’s skills.
“We have a tripod if we need to lower a person into a confined space,” Training Capt. Kevin Ware said pointing to a trap door in the third level. “We can set a dummy in an area and tell them they need to get the dummy out.”
They’ll be able to use the movable steel walls and doors like a massive erector set to make each rescue or fire situation different.
“Firefighters think they’ve got it figured out; we can mix it up,” Ware said. “Many of the fires will be hay fires, which will release a lot of smoke.”
The new building is also only several yards away from the old burn tower, which could lead to further creativity from the training chiefs.
The burn tower is one of few remaining SPLOST projects from the 2013 SPLOST still active.
One project in the city remains, the stabilization and rehabilitation of Unity Point Park at the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula. That had $1.8 million earmarked for the project, including improvements to the South Broad bridge, which are done.
In the county, two projects remain but are getting close to fruition. The firing range on Black’s Bluff road is approximately 90% complete. It was a part of a $900,000 upgrade to county public safety facilities. The other project — the airport runway upgrade — was divided into three phases in an effort to get more competitive bids.
Grading for the 1,000-foot extension is approximately 75% complete. The second phase will include the Instrument Landing System and electronics package, followed by the actual base and paving.
Northwest Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was in Florida on Friday to headline an event, following appearances the previous week at the Iowa State Fair.
The Rome Republican has also attended House sessions in Washington, D.C., but she did get home this month. Greene visited with the Cobb County GOP on Aug. 14 and touched base in her own 14th district at the Aug. 7 Floyd County Republican Party rally at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds.
Greene’s Friday trip to the Hillsborough County GOP’s Lincoln Day fundraiser underscores a deep division in the local party, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Tapping Greene as the speaker has alienated some Tampa Republicans, who question why the local party would give a platform to a freshman lawmaker from a neighboring state instead of a homegrown Republican, the paper reported Friday.
“I’ve talked to Republicans who aren’t happy with (Greene) and aren’t going,” said former County Commissioner Sandy Murman.
But Tom Gaitens, one of Hillsborough’s state committeemen to the Republican Party, said he believes Greene will fire up many local Republicans. The event is sold out.
“Is she going to energize the moderates? Probably not,” Gaitens said. “You’re not going to please everybody all the time.”
Greene first took office in January and her travel has ramped up since mid-May, when she created the joint “Put America First” fundraising committee with U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. Most of those expenses won’t show up in Federal Election Commission filings until the September quarterly reports.
A look at filings so far shows the congresswoman paid out over $14,100 for airfare between Jan. 1 and June 30, to air lines ranging from Southwest, American and Jet Blue to Frontier, United and Delta.
Listed hotel payments for Greene and accompanying staffers totaled more than $3,287 during those six months, although it’s unclear from the dates how they match up with flights. Payments on the Greene campaign’s American Express credit card during that period topped $235,000.
Restaurant meal receipts provide some indication of where she was campaigning.
January: ♦ The campaign paid a $328 bill at The Warehouse, a steak and seafood restaurant in the Old Town district of Alexandria, Virginia. Earlier that month, the bill at Embassy Suites by Hilton in Arlington, Virginia, came to $1,243.
February: ♦ Hotel payments totaled $513 at the Springhill Suites in Tifton, in southwest Georgia. The bulk of the restaurant receipts were for meals in Virginia and Washington D.C. On Feb. 26, the campaign paid a $3,205 bill at Charley’s Steak House in Orlando, Florida.
March:♦ Campaign meal payments included $445 to MUR, a restaurant serving “Israeli modern cuisine” in Lawrence, New York, on March 14. The Capitol Hill Club in D.C. got $196 on the same date. On March 23, a $1,000 bill was paid for a meal at Morton’s — The Steakhouse, in West Palm Beach, Florida. The campaign also paid $313 on March 30 for a district event at the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk in Georgia.
April: ♦ The campaign paid another $347 to the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk on April 23, but Florida also saw a lot of business. Morton’s in West Palm Beach got another visit, with $5,868 paid on April 22, the same day The Ben in Palm Gardens Beach got $838. ER Bradley’s Saloon in West Palm Beach was paid $255 on April 24. The campaign also paid West Palm Beach hotel bills at the Residence Inn on April 20 and Courtyard by Marriott on April 24.
May: ♦ Greene’s campaign was back in Florida in May, paying $213 for a meal at Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse in Orlando on May 6 and $379 for rooms at the Orlando Airport Marriott Lakeside on May 8. It spent $883 on May 15 at the Dalton Chick-fil-A to cater an event.
June: ♦ In addition to credit card payments totaling nearly $71,000 and two flights, the campaign paid for two meals at Washington D.C. restaurants. The Capitol Hill Club got $596 on June 14 and BLT Prime was paid $1,394 on June 22.
As the Floyd County school system begins to plan its next education local option sales tax package, the Armuchee community voiced frustration and said they’re still waiting on the school system to finish the high school modernization project.
When the 2017 ELOST was passed, two projects were labeled as “top tier”: a new Pepperell Middle School building and an Armuchee High School campus modernization.
The two projects were budgeted at $21.5 million for Pepperell and $25 million for Armuchee. While the middle school was recently completed this summer and stayed in budget, Armuchee is $3 million pass the original mark and now the project isn’t expected to be complete until the fall 0f 2022.
There are many reasons for the delay and cost increase, including inflation and labor shortages.
The new gym was the beginning of the project, which was completed in 2019 and cost about $10 million. Since then, the project has moved at a much slower pace, with the roof phase just now being complete in May.
Now, they’re working on the exterior and interior modernizations, which include matching the brick of the high school to the new gym and installing bus canopies.
The interior portion involved gutting the building and installing a new intercom system, kitchen equipment, HVAC system, ceiling grid, gas lines, fire system and many other items.
At a community meeting Thursday night, around 50 to 70 Armuchee community members came out to the high school’s auditorium to voice their disappointment and anger with the school board and Superintendent Glenn White.
Several people, from teachers to parents to even alumni and current students, said that they were promised more when they voted on the ELOST, including a renovated auditorium with new lights and a speaker system. The school board also promised that their other athletic facilities, excluding the new gym, would be modernized as well.
Currently, the concession stands, field house and bathrooms are safety hazards for students and staff, many parents said.
While White said some of the promises made to the community happened before he was superintendent, several people said he should still take on those promises and responsibilities.
According to White, FCS plans to invest any money from the eventual sale of Glenwood Primary into the Armuchee community.
He also said that they plan to continue investing in the Armuchee community in the new ELOST, but there aren’t any items on the current list that will go towards the community in northern Floyd County.
Again, many members of the community argued that Armuchee is already far behind the other schools in the district and they should have priority on any system-wide upgrades.
White and the Floyd County Board of Education plan to address many of the stated issues from Armuchee in the new ELOST, but the proposal would fall under an umbrella with the other high schools.
The first item, which White said is his top priority, is to build a $28 million Coosa Elementary School for students in the Alto Park, Garden Lakes and Cave Spring areas. He also said they plan to eventually close Garden Lakes and Alto Park and move them into a large elementary school.
He mentioned technology upgrades for $2 million and safety upgrades for elementary schools for another $2 million.
For all four high schools, White said they’re looking at putting in new lights and sound systems in all of the schools’ auditoriums for $2 million, new turf fields and synthetic tracks for $2 million and stadium seating repair for another $2 million.
“These are things we’ve looked at. I’ve talked to principals and other staff members,” White said at a Friday board meeting and work session. “I seek information from these people and people in our facilities department because they know what we need.”
The ELOST process is a very long and drawn out process and includes both the county school system and Rome City Schools.
“This isn’t a final list and we can add and take away anything,” Vice Chair Melinda Strickland said.