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Bigstory
Floyd County sets one day record for number of new COVID-19 infections

Setting a one-day record, 22 more Floyd County residents were reported positive for COVID-19 on Monday — bringing the cumulative number of cases to 426.

The previous highest number occurred on May 19. That makes the third time since March that over 20 people were reported positive in a single day. The other was on April 1, when 20 people reported positive after increased testing began.

Over the last week, Floyd County has had 55 more people confirmed positive for the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Since March, 15 people have died, although Floyd County has not had a fatality attributed to COVID-19 since May 26.

Statewide, 65,928 positive tests for the coronavirus had been reported as of Monday afternoon, over 2,000 more than Sunday.

Cumulative cases reported throughout Northwest Georgia show increasing trends with a notable spike in Whitfield County. It’s important to note these are not active cases but represent the cumulative cases since the Department of Public Health began recording COVID-19 infections.

The statewide hospitalization rate was just over 15%, with a total of 9,837 people needing medical care at some point. The fatality rate was about 4%, with a total of 2,648 deaths.

Here’s a look at the situation as of Monday in some nearby counties:

♦ Polk: 184 cases, 15 hospitalizations and one death.

♦ Bartow: 604 cases, 150 hospitalizations and 39 deaths.

♦ Chattooga: 49 cases, 3 hospitalizations and 2 deaths.

♦ Gordon: 298 cases, 39 hospitalizations and 18 deaths.

♦ Whitfield: 741 cases, 45 hospitalizations and 10 deaths.

♦ Paulding: 470 cases, 87 hospitalizations and 13 deaths.

Recovery

Among the news of rising numbers, hospitalizations have stayed relatively low locally. As of Monday, Floyd County EMA reported there were only seven patients being treated for a COVID-19 infection at the two hospitals. The patients are not necessarily Floyd County residents.

Many of those infected never show symptoms and others are struck hard. Most recover — and one man who spent 57 days hospitalized finally left the hospital last week.

Josh Penson walked out of Floyd Medical Center on his own power Friday, after spending nearly two months hospitalized with COVID-19.

His wife, Tiffany Penson, credited Dr. Daniel Valancius with saving her husband’s life and said other caregivers also played a key role in his recovery.

Penson was overcome with emotion as he left the front entrance to be greeted by a throng of friends, family and FMC staff.

Ryan Smith  

Josh Penson walked out of Floyd Medical Center on his own power Friday, after spending nearly two months hospitalized with COVID-19. Penson was overcome with emotion as he left the front entrance to be greeted by a throng of friends, family and Floyd staff.

Tiffany Penson said her husband was in the hospital for about three days when it was clear he needed more intensive treatment. He was hooked up to a machine that helped both his heart and lungs overcome the strain put on them by COVID-19.

Valancius, a hospitalist at FMC, treated Penson and has been heavily involved with the treatment of other COVID-19 patients. His recommendation that a patient be tested for the virus resulted in FMC treating its first COVID-19 patient in March.

“Everything they have done, it works. He’s proof that it works. Dr. Valancius saved his life,” Tiffany Penson said.

A report released by the Georgia Department of Community Health last week shows that most residents in long term care facilities who had been confirmed with COVID-19 had recovered. In mid-April there were five deaths reported at Rome Health and Rehabilitation facility on Redmond Circle, however the other 20 residents who had been infected recovered from the disease.

Cases rise in bordering states

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting a rise in coronavirus cases in states that have started lifting restrictions on public gatherings.

Coronavirus cases in Florida surpassed 100,000 on Monday, part of an alarming surge across the South and West as states reopen for business and many Americans resist wearing masks or keeping their distance from others.

The disturbing signs in the Sunshine State as well as places like Arizona, Alabama, Texas and South Carolina — along with countries such as Brazil, India and Pakistan — are raising fears that the progress won after months of lockdowns is slipping away.

“It is snowballing,” said Marc Boom, CEO and president of Houston Methodist Hospital, noting that the number of hospitalizations in the Texas Medical Center system that includes the hospital has more than doubled since Memorial Day.

“If we don’t do what we can RIGHT NOW as a community to stop the spread, the virus will take our choices away from us,” Boom said.

The number of newly confirmed coronavirus cases across the country has reached more than 26,000 per day, up from about 21,000 two weeks ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The analysis looked at a seven-day rolling average through Sunday. Over 120,000 deaths in the U.S. have been blamed on the virus.

In Orlando, 152 coronavirus cases were linked to one bar near the University of Central Florida campus, said Dr. Raul Pino, a state health officer in the resort city.

“A lot of transmission happened there,” Pino said. “People are very close. People are not wearing masks. People are drinking, shouting, dancing, sweating, kissing and hugging, all the things that happen in bars. And all those things that happen are not good for COVID-19.”

Although he asked health officials to renew calls for people to wear masks and keep their distance, Gov. Ron DeSantis has not signaled he will retreat from reopening the state after three months of shutdowns that have damaged the economy.

Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, said that the outbreak is “definitely accelerating” in the U.S. and a number of other countries, dismissing the notion that the record daily levels of new COVID-19 cases simply reflect more testing.

He noted that numerous countries have also noted marked increases in hospital admissions and deaths.

“The epidemic is now peaking or moving towards a peak in a number of large countries,” he warned.

At Maryland’s Fort Washington Medical Center on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, workers described a scramble to find new beds, heartbreaking interactions with family members of critically ill patients and their frustration with Americans who do not believe the coronavirus threat is real.

“Everybody is out lounging on the beaches. Just thinking that it’s over. And it’s not,” respiratory therapist Kevin Cole said. “It’s far from being over. And unfortunately, it’s those people that keep we’ll keep this pandemic going.”

Nearly 9 million people have been confirmed infected by the virus worldwide and about 470,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins, though experts say the actual numbers are much higher because of limited testing and cases in which patients had no symptoms.

Companies around the world are racing to find a vaccine, and there is fierce debate over how to make sure it is distributed fairly. WHO’s special envoy on COVID-19, Dr. David Nabarro, said he believes it will be “2 1/2 years until there will be vaccine for everybody in the world.”


Business
ARC releases latest demographic data in advance of Census

While Georgia and the rest of the nation wait on 2020 Census data, the Appalachian Regional Commission is looking at what we know now.

Its newly published study examines county-level data for the 13 ARC states through 2018, based on information from the American Community Survey. In Georgia, the ARC covers 37 counties across the northern tier of the state.

The report includes information on population, population density, age, race and ethnicity as well as education.

Among the seven counties in the mid-Coosa Valley — which also includes Cherokee County, Alabama — Bartow County leads in terms of raw population numbers, with 106,408 residents.

Floyd County follows with 97,927. Walker County is third with 69,410, followed by Gordon County at 57,685, Polk County with 42,470, Cherokee County with 26,032 and Chattooga County with 24,790.

Bartow also has the top population density at 231.3 people per square mile. Floyd is second at 192, while Gordon County has a density of 162 residents per square mile. The population is much more spread out over in Cherokee County, where the density is just 47 people per square mile.

Cherokee has the oldest median age at 46.9 years old. “Median age” means half the people are older and half are younger. The median age in Floyd County is reported at 38.2 years. Polk County has the youngest median age at 37 years.

Georgia’s median age is 36.9 years.

Not surprisingly, Cherokee also has the highest percentage of residents over the age of 65, at 23%. Floyd has 16.7% of its population in the 65 and up category. Bartow has the smallest percentage in that age group at 14%.

“We’ve known for some time that we have an aging population and one of the conversations that we’ve been having involves a workforce that is retiring,” said Rome Floyd Chamber President Jeanne Krueger.

Part of that conversation involves how to recruit more young people to Rome and Floyd County. Krueger said that a 93.6% high school graduation rate now is a big benefit to recruiting younger people to the community.

“We’re real proud of that improvement and it’s a big part of attracting a younger, skilled workforce,” Krueger said.

In terms of education, Bartow County has the smallest percentage of residents over the age of 25 who have less than a high school diploma — at 11%. Floyd County is second in that category with 12.4% while Chattooga County has the highest percentage without a high school diploma at 18.5%.

Chamber leaders believe a majority of those without high school diplomas are in the older demographic ranges.

Floyd has the highest minority population in the mid-Coosa Valley region, at 29.1%. Polk County is second at 28.4% while Bartow County is third at 22.7%.

Statewide, that number is 47.6%. Cherokee County, to the west, has just 8.3% minority population.

American Community Survey estimates are based on annual changes observed since the once-a-decade census.

Leaders across Rome and Floyd County have been urging residents to participate in the 2020 Census. Many contend there was a significant undercount in 2010, particularly as it relates to the Latino segment of the minority population.

The number of people within a community governs decisions ranging from business and industry decisions to federal grants and congressional representation.


Kameryn Henry, a second-grader at Glenwood Primary School


Local
Restaurants and bars to get a rebate from city for COVID-19 related revenue losses

Establishments that serve alcohol in Rome are getting a break for business losses related to the COVID-19 shutdown.

The Rome City Commission agreed unanimously Monday night to rebate pouring fees for a 60-day period, a move that will cost the city approximately $41,000 in revenue. City Clerk Joe Smith told the commission that checks to the business owners would be issued by his office before the end of next week.

Beer and wine pouring permits each cost $1,500 a year, equal to $4.11 a day. A permit to serve liquor costs $2,500 a year, equal to $6.85 a day. Rome has issued 58 beer pouring permits, 46 wine pouring licenses and 37 liquor pouring licenses this year.

Since liquor-pouring establishments also pay a tax based on the volume of alcohol served, Smith told commissioners that he expects them to see a slight reduction next year as a result of the public health emergency.

Commissioners also approved recommendations from the Alcohol Control Commission for fines against three businesses caught in a sting for selling alcohol to minors.

Coastal Food Mart, 1701 Turner McCall Blvd., and Maple Food Mart, 2107 Maple Road, will each have to pay a $500 fine. Latino Food Mart at 702 Shorter Ave. was assessed a $250 fine. All three stores will have formal letters of warning placed in their files with the city.

The commission also amended the itinerant vendor ordinance, limiting pop-up street merchants to no more than 30 days of activity within the city limits and no more than 10 days in any one particular spot.

Smith made it clear that the ordinance does not extend to fresh produce vendors who grow their own merchandise. If a produce vendor purchases his fruit or vegetables from another party, however, they are classified as a peddler and are subject to a license fee.

The commission approved a rezoning request from the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority for approximately 18.4 acres — the Graham Homes site in East Rome — from Urban Mixed Use and High Density Traditional Residential to Multi-Family Residential.

The housing authority plans to demolish the complex and build new units as part of its major overhaul of the Maple Street/East Twelfth Street corridor.

A rezoning for 109 Lookout Circle on Mount Aventine, from Community Commercial to Low Density Traditional Residential status, was also approved without objection.

The board also sent the master development plan for Rome’s River District, prepared by a consultant a year and a half ago, was sent back to the Redevelopment Committee for another look before it is adopted.

Also, a proclamation for Unity Against Racial Injustice was passed unanimously. It calls for all residents of Rome “to stand against racism, and continue our commitment to stand up for racial justice and civil rights for all.”


Business
Floyd Medical Center expects to know determination in open heart surgery request soon

The discussion concerning a new push toward obtaining a certificate of need for Floyd Medical Center for open heart surgery continued at the Floyd Healthcare Management board on Monday evening.

That answer may come sooner rather than later.

Floyd began a marketing campaign arguing the program is needed to address disparities in healthcare. The hospital claims the Rome area has significant issues for care — including a high rate of mortality from cardiovascular disease, and an even higher rate for African Americans.

Redmond Regional Medical Center has been the sole provider of open heart services in Rome since 1986. Floyd applied for a certificate of need to perform open heart surgery and was denied by the Department of Community Health two years ago. A legal battle ensued and the question went back to state health officials on April 14.

The application is on review and FMC President Kurt Stuenkel estimated to the board that he expects a decision within the next couple of weeks.

Floyd representatives are expected to visit the Department of Community Health on Tuesday, armed with the signatures of over 1,000 local people asking the state to approve the hospital’s request.

In a video played before the board, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ken Jones stated they felt that competition will be good for everyone involved. He cited an argument put forth by Redmond Regional Medical Center in their application for a certificate of need for its new obstetrics program.

“We think that patients deserve a choice. He also said ‘we think competition makes us stronger.’ I think Redmond and Floyd are both stronger when we compete — I agree with that,” Jones said in the video.

Stuenkel said outreach is key to providing community medical services and Floyd County would benefit from more outreach, regardless of whether or not FMC wins this particular request.

Citing an upcoming merger with Atrium Healthcare, Stuenkel told the board part of that deal entails a significant contribution — approximately $80 million — to the Floyd Healthcare Foundation.

“We’re going to have funds to do a lot of outreach,” Stuenkel told the board. “If we lose this we’re still going to do outreach, because it needs to happen.”