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Floyd County Schools shift to follow DPH student quarantine guidelines

After receiving guidance from the governor’s office, the Floyd County school system is shifting its policy to follow Department of Public Health quarantine orders concerning students who have had a possible COVID-19 exposure.

Interim Superintendent Glenn White said Tuesday it will take time to implement the change.

“We will be in total compliance with all DPH guidelines on Monday,” he said.

White said they will need to inform parents that they will have to find childcare for their children as well give teachers time to prepare lessons for students in quarantine.

Students who are in the 14-day quarantine after a possible exposure won’t shift to the system’s virtual learning academy, but will have take-home packets and lessons. During that time in quarantine, students will stay in touch with their regular teachers and receive assignments and guidance.

“It will increase the number of students who are in quarantine,” White said.”We will know more about the numbers as this week goes on.”

The change in policy came from a direct communications from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office and public health. “We will comply with what Gov. Kemp says,” White said.

School systems across the state have had a rough start back this year amid the pandemic. All schools in Rome and Floyd County resumed classes on Aug. 13 and have seen COVID-19 exposures to one degree or another.

Rome City Schools currently has 189 students and 22 staff members out after COVID-19 infections or potential exposures. Most of those staff and students are concentrated at Rome Middle School, Rome High School and Elm Street Elementary.

The county school system shut down three schools for a time and at one point announced the entire school system would switch to virtual learning, before walking back that decision the next day.

All county schools were opened back up on Aug. 30 after officials announced a change in how students and teachers would quarantine. The shift announced Tuesday will only partially reverse that change.

Teachers in the system will continue to be considered essential personnel and will not quarantine immediately upon a possible exposure.

Staff quarantines have stretched school districts’ ability to keep providing in-person instruction. However, keeping exposed teachers without symptoms in the classroom raises the risk that they will spread the respiratory illness to students and fellow employees.

A Tuesday release gave more instructions about when or if a student in the school system needs to quarantine.

“Parents or guardians should notify their school principal if they or their child develops COVID-19 symptoms and/or receives a positive COVID-19 test result,” the FCS release states. “If your child develops COVID-19 symptoms or positive COVID-19 test results while under a quarantine period, please also notify the school system. Sharing such health information with FCS will be kept strictly confidential.”

New COVID-19 cases decline, hospitalizations still up

Countywide, recent two-week averages in new cases continue to trend downward somewhat, although they are still much higher than pre-August infection totals.

Floyd County’s running two-week number of new cases declined to 350 cases Tuesday after a single-day spike of 70-plus new cases sent it back above the 400 mark last week.

On average, local hospitals reported caring for over 50 COVID-19 positive patients each day during the past two weeks.

The state’s coordinating hospitals Region C covers Floyd, Chattooga, Polk, Bartow, Haralson, Carroll, Heard and Coweta counties. In that region, 744 inpatient beds are in use — 93% of the region’s capacity — and 83.4% of the region’s 136 ICU beds are in use.

Those number don’t exclusively reflect COVID-19 patients. Local hospitals earlier reported that they’ve seen higher noncoronavirus-related need for hospital bed space as well.

Emergency department beds, which could be used in case of a possible overflow, are at 48.4% capacity in the region. The number of adult ventilators in use also was low, at 15.8%, as of Tuesday.

Jessica Locklear, a fourth-grader at Model Elementary School

Elections Board votes to have two weekends of early voting, makes plans for Nov. 3 election

Tackling tech issues and poll worker training are two of the ways the Floyd County Board of Elections intends to make Election Day on Nov. 3 run more smoothly.

The board discussed plans at its meeting on Tuesday that include assembling a tech squad to travel from precinct to precinct to handle any voting equipment problems.

Chair Tom Rees said that Dominion, the company that manufactures the equipment, is looking at sending their own tech teams to each county in Georgia, but the board wants to make sure Floyd County precincts will be covered no matter what they decide.

Also, training will be mandatory for both new poll workers and veteran poll workers before early voting starts. The training will be separate for the two groups and will, hopefully, clear up any issues the workers had during previous elections, Rees said.

Early voting will begin on Oct. 12 and run through Oct. 30. The elections office is planning to have multiple locations available for voting during the week, including the Floyd County Administration Building, Garden Lakes Baptist Church and Rome Civic Center.

Board members voted to have the weekends of Oct. 17 and Oct. 25 open for early voting. Voters will have the opportunity to cast their ballots on both Saturday and Sunday each of those weekends..

Board members said the Floyd County Administration Building will definitely be open for weekend voting, but they are also looking at securing another location.

Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis recommended the board consider the Forum River Center, since it isn’t being used for big events right now and there would be plenty of space. Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady said they would look into it.

Rees also said the Georgia Secretary of State’s office is offering a grant for more ballot drop boxes.

The Floyd County Elections Office has already submitted an application in hopes of adding more drop boxes for the November election. Right now, there are two available: one in front of the elections office on Fourth Avenue and one in front of the Rome-Floyd County Library on Riverside Parkway.

The next regularly scheduled Board of Elections meeting will take place on Oct. 13 at noon in the Community Room of the County Administration Building.

Chamber president says unemployment numbers are 'staggering'

Data mining through the monthly reports from the Georgia Department of Labor show that slightly more than one in five people in the local labor force have received first-time unemployment assistance this year.

And, like the regular first-time claims and monthly unemployment numbers, some of the data found deeper inside the reports paints a dismal picture.

Rome Floyd Chamber President Jeanne Krueger said the workforce crisis related to COVID-19 seems to be easing up somewhat but it’s not where she would like it to be.

“We’re still concerned about those numbers,” Krueger said. “We see a lot of jobs being put on our jobs page from small (companies) up to large, but at the same time when we hear these numbers it is a bit staggering.”

People in the Floyd County workforce have received 9,187 first-time benefit checks through the end of July. The number of initial payments made in all of calendar year 2019 was just 2,225.

A first-time check is one that has been issued to someone who had not sought unemployment assistance in the previous 12 months. The labor force is defined as a county resident, regardless of if their job is within their county of residence.

The Department of Labor has paid out more than $8.2 million in unemployment benefits to Floyd County residents through the first seven months of the year. That compares to just $2.7 million for all 12 months in 2019 — a 204% increase with five months still on the calendar.

Metro Atlanta Chamber Chief Economist Tom Cunningham spoke via Zoom to the Rome chamber’s Small Business Action Council on Tuesday.

He said there is evidence that a lot of people who have been furloughed or laid off have been going back to school. A lot of them are going to the technical schools for retraining in a bid to get a better job.

For instance, Cunningham cited truck driving as one of those blue collar jobs that are still in high demand and offer good wages.

Across the entire 15-county Northwest Georgia region, 13 counties have already seen residents pile up over a million dollars in unemployment benefits through the first seven months of the year. Dade and Chattooga counties are the only counties in the region that have not crossed the million-dollar threshold yet.

Last year, eight counties did not receive a million dollars in jobless benefits during the entire year.

Workers across the region have received more than $68.5 million in unemployment compensation through July compared to $20.6 million for the entirety of 2019.

The average weekly benefit check from the state alone, during the month of July, ranged from a low of $203 a week for residents of Haralson County to $248 per week for residents of Dade County. Floyd County residents received an average weekly benefit of $206 in July.

It is not clear from available data how many of those unemployed residents also received the $600 a week benefit from the federal government, which expired at the end of July.

The boost was earmarked for those who could show their job loss was directly related to the pandemic.

Pepperell grad opens boutique in Cave Spring

Tatum Grady has always dreamed of owning a women’s clothing boutique.

Now, the Pepperell High School graduate has fulfilled that dream by taking over the former Baker’s Boutique in Cave Spring and renaming it Blooming T’s.

The shop at 6 Alabama St. opened in early 2017 but had been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March. Grady said the former owners, Melody Noyes and Joanie Baker Canant, approached her several months ago about taking it over and she jumped at the opportunity.

“We did some renovations on the inside and are carrying different items and new things,” Grady said. “We are going to be carrying newborn up through children’s clothing and adding some different brands to the women’s clothing. Plus sizes as well.”

The name Blooming T’s comes from her first initial and her philosophy that the store will always be blooming into something bigger and better.

This is Grady’s first effort at ownership and she said that opening a boutique during a pandemic has been a little scary. But she’s optimistic.

“A lot of people are saying small businesses in small towns are thriving due to people not wanting to go into (bigger) towns and be around a lot of people,” Grady said. “It has not been as difficult as you would think it would be. A lot of people are not as scared to get out and about.”

She said she’s going the extra mile to keep the shop sanitized and clean for her customers.

Sandra Lindsey, director of the Cave Spring Downtown Development Authority, said she is excited to have Grady reopen the shop — and to keep it fresh with new items for local residents as well as visitors to the community.

Lindsey said that, while a lot of promotional events were canceled this year, a number of fall events — including the haunted tours in October and the annual Christmas in the Country — are still on the calendar.

Blooming T’s is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. However, Grady said she will open on Sundays as events in Cave Spring dictate. She was open this past Sunday during a quilt show and farmers market and said the extra time was worth the effort.