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Voccio: COVID-19 cases up over 21% in past two weeks, expecting another surge after July 4 festivities

In the 10-county health district covering much of Northwest Georgia, confirmed COVID-19 cases have increased 21% in the past two weeks, according to the Department of Public Health.

Among the news of rising infections there is a bright spot — not as many patients in the hospitals are requiring extreme measures to survive the infection.

“The hospital numbers are slightly going up but the acuity in the hospitals is not that high,” said DPH Northwest Health District Health Director Dr. Gary Voccio. “The (numbers of people on) ventilators aren’t going up.”

However, hospitalizations and deaths can take a few weeks longer to occur after infections increase, he noted.

“We do not want to overwhelm our emergency rooms or hospitals with COVID-19 patients. If this happens, they would not be able to care for people with other acute illnesses,” Voccio said.

Local hospitals have adjusted to the community spread and test everyone who comes into the emergency room — often testing over 100 people a day. There’s also been a learning curve on how to treat COVID-19 positive patients and Voccio praised Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center for their efforts.

“They’ve trained themselves and done a great job,” Voccio said.

There were 18 people with COVID-19 being treated at the two hospitals on Thursday, up two since Wednesday, and 13 more people with confirmed infections.

There have been 86 new cases reported in the past seven days in Floyd County. Most of the increase is among younger people, with 22% of all current cases in people between the ages of 18-29 years old.

“That’s bringing our average down,” Voccio said. The average age of a new COVID-19 patient dropped from 55 to 42.

He encouraged everyone, especially young adults, to participate in COVID-19 prevention in social, recreational, workplace, and business settings to avoid a rebound in serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.

Statewide, the seven-day average number of cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks, from an average of 1,000 daily cases in mid-June to 2,000 daily cases at the end of June.

There hasn’t been information pointing to a single exposure site — like the Church at Liberty Square in March — and case investigations have indicated multiple potential ways young people may be exposed. However, the largest proportion of cases continue to be reported among household contacts.

With that said, public health officials said they’re expecting surge in cases after the Independence Day holiday similar to the one they documented after Memorial Day.

“Although an increase in cases with reopening — as people come into more contact with one another — is not unexpected, the marked increase in cases is signaling that we need to take steps to limit further spread that could set back our reopening,” Voccio said.

The increased number of confirmed infections can only partially be attributed to increased testing. In the Northwest health district, testing has doubled since early June, growing from 600 tests per week to 1,200 per week.

“The recent increase in COVID-19 cases is very concerning. Increasing cases and risk for acquiring COVID-19 in our community threatens the hard-earned progress we made during the stay-at-home order,” Voccio said. “This virus is very contagious, and we need to be vigilant – the risk from COVID-19 remains serious.”

Sparkle Box full of pepperoni

Law enforcement personnel in Rome and Floyd County will be sharing pizzas delivered by the Harry Pierce family over the next five weekdays as a thank you for their service to the community.

It was about eight years ago when Terri Pierce read a book called “The Sparkle Box.” The Christmas story of a family’s random acts of kindness had a life-changing impact, persuading her of the importance of giving back to the community.

Each year since 2013, Pierce, her husband, Harry Pierce, and daughter Sara Jo Pierce have led an effort to do something special for others. After watching what has been happening in the news over the last month, the Pierce family knew they wanted to dedicate this year to law enforcement personnel.

On Thursday, that took the form of delivering pizza to four agencies. The deliveries will continue into next week until all shifts have had an opportunity to chow down.

Personnel at the Floyd County Prison, the 911 center, the county police and sheriff’s office got deliveries Thursday. Rome police will be added to the schedule next week.

“There are bad people in every profession, but sometimes they’re not bad people, they’re made to look bad,” Terri said.

Her brother is Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, who started out as a deputy 35 years ago.

“I’ve seen him, over his career, leave every day and not know whether he’s going to come back or not,” she said.

Harry Pierce said he made contact with Tyson Dube and Jeremy Duke at Mellow Mushroom about providing the pizzas and they were eager to join the project.

“Just saying ‘thank you’ means a lot to these people,” Harry said.

It does.

“This is huge for us,” said prison Warden Mike Long. “The corrections officers are often overlooked.”

Deputy Warden Frankie Cronan said he’s been in the corrections department for 28 years and is thrilled to have the staff at the prison included.

“Oftentimes what we do here doesn’t get in the limelight,” Cronan said.

Police Maj. Carl Lively accepted a hot pepperoni pizza from Sara Jo Pierce.

“It’s important for people in our profession to know that they are still appreciated,” he told her.

Sara Jo said she can’t imagine police units in Rome and Floyd County being cut. Many of the national protests have sought the defunding of police.

Count ’em up and it’s going to be more than 150 pizzas delivered by the time the project has been completed. Close to 400 law enforcement officers and support staff will have been fed.

Planning Commission backs winery application despite opposition from neighbors

The Rome-Floyd Planning Commission recommended approval of a winery permit application at its Thursday meeting.

Applicant Billy Newby owns the property at 602D Billy Pyle Road, which is 58 acres and houses a few vineyards. Newby said he wishes to start a winery on the property because not many other wineries take grapes from other vineyards.

Visitors would be allowed on the property for tastings and tours, but it would mostly be a small production, making about 2,000 cases of wine a year.

If approved, Newby’s property would be rezoned from suburban residential to agricultural residential for the operation.

The recommendation includes building a vegetative buffer along the easement that leads into the property, to create a barrier between the winery and neighbors.

Several neighbors along nearby Quiet Acre Road voiced concerns and opposition to the application.

Jane Fleming lives closest to Newby and said that she feels as if Newby has taken advantage of the area. She said the easement that he uses to access Billy Pyle Road is part of her property.

Newby’s lawyer Louis Johnson said Newby bought the easement in 1996 and has only taken down dying trees and maintained the road.

Neighbor B.J. Gore said the neighborhood is very quiet with minimal traffic and he believes a winery would upset the area and the longtime residents.

The application will go before the Floyd County Commission for a public hearing and final vote on July 28 at 6 p.m. in the County Administration Building, 12 E. Fourth Ave.

Planning commission members recommended denial of another permit application — to allow pet chickens at a Saddle Mountain residence — after hearing objections from neighbors and discussing past cases.

Katherine Sho said she wishes to have four hens at the property on Pheasant Run to keep as pets and harvest eggs for the household. She said she would comply with the Unified Land Development Code regulations, which prohibit roosters and free range chickens.

Many of Sho’s neighbors talked about their fears that chickens in the neighborhood would spread diseases and attract predators, such as coyotes.

Planning commission member Terry Jones echoed their sentiments, saying chickens are an agricultural pet and belong in regulated areas.

The application will go before the Rome City Commission at the July 27 meeting for a public hearing and vote.

For more information regarding the city and county commission meetings’ public hearings, contact senior planner Brice Wood at bwood@romega.us.

Heidi Perkins, a first-grader at Johnson Elementary School

Prosecutors: White supremacist group members keeping contact with extremists while in jail

Floyd County prosecutors revealed evidence Thursday that three jail inmates who are reported members of The Base — a white supremacist group with international ties — have been communicating with a “racially motivated violent extremist” out of Boston.

The extremist, who Assistant District Attorney Emily Johnson did not identify in court, had also been facilitating communication between the three codefendants.

The information about the intercepted jail communications — which included email and phone calls — came during a bond hearing for Jacob Kaderli.

Kaderli is one of three men accused of plotting to kill a Bartow County married couple who had taken part in antifascist protests, in order to send a message to their group’s enemies.

Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach recently denied a motion to reconsider bond for one of Kaderli’s codefendants, Luke Lane of Rome. The third defendant, Michael Helterbrand of Dalton, is also being held without bond.

During the hearing, Kaderli’s attorney John Lovell said his client ended his participation early on in the plot. He told the court Kaderli did not participate in the conspiracy after a ride to scout out the home of the proposed victims.

“What’s significant about that is by the time he discontinued his participation, police had not felt the need to arrest the three,” Lovell told the court.

Lovell, who appeared in the hearing via video, said Kaderli was 19 at the time and “when some of the machinations allegedly occurred he was still in high school.”

Prosecutors disagreed, stating that Kaderli was “very active in the plot up until the day he was arrested.”

Kaderli volunteered to enter the couple’s residence with a lock pick gun, Johnson said. It was Kaderli who said he was going to bring a revolver to leave no shell casings, it was Kaderli who planned to burn the house down after the murders and — she continued — it was Kaderli who chose the Bartow couple as victims of the plot in the first place.

“He never abandoned this plan. He fully participated,” Johnson said.

FBI and Floyd County Police Department investigators stated in an affidavit that the men were affiliated with the white supremacist anti-government group. The Base existed primarily online, according to court documents, although they met up for paramilitary training on an isolated property owned by Lane’s family off John Ingram Road in Silver Creek.

The FBI has stated the founder of the group, Rinaldo Nazarro, is an American who runs the group from his home in St. Petersburg, Russia. The New York Times has reported the FBI is reportedly investigating Nazarro and links to Russian intelligence.

These national and international links were one of the reasons Niedrach cited in originally denying bond to the three men.

Johnson read to the court a transcript of a phone call from Kaderli to the unnamed third party in Boston, saying that when he first gets out of jail on bond, “he would do some family stuff and might be radio silent for a while but then he would get back in touch.”

“He has not abandoned his affiliation,” Johnson said.

Niedrach said he would make a decision later concerning Kaderli’s new bond motion but warned prosecutors that the case would have to move quickly.

If a defendant is held without bond, prosecutors must indict that defendant within 90 days. However, the Georgia Supreme Court put a pause on tolling during the COVID-19 pandemic until it is deemed safe to have court again in the state. The current judicial emergency order is set to expire on July 12.

“Your office will have about 30 days to get an indictment or I have to give a bond,” Niedrach said. The judge also told prosecutors the case, once indicted, would be a priority to go to trial.