The entire population at the Bartow County Jail is in quarantine after 30-plus positive cases of COVID-19 among inmates.
Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap said those who have tested positive have been mostly asymptomatic and the quarantine is effective as of Wednesday.
“We have observed the mistruths that have been posted on social media in the past couple of days,” Millsap said in a statement. “I can assure you that we are monitoring all inmates in the facility and we are testing and following the state health department’s guidelines and recommendations.”
Northwest Georgia public health district spokesman Logan Boss said they have been in discussions with jail officials. “There are over 30 cases at the jail and we expect more,” Boss said. “They have been following the recommended guidelines.”
Jails present particular issues when quarantining infected individuals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 often are cohort quarantines. Cohorting refers to the practice of isolating people infected with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus together as a group, due to a limited number of individual cells.
At this point jails are No. 2 in the top three locations for outbreaks, Boss said. No. 1 is long-term care facilities and No. 3 is schools.
“Other correctional and detention facilities that have had outbreaks include Hays (state prison) and jails in Floyd, Paulding and Chattooga,” Boss said.
An outbreak at those type of group facilities is defined as one confirmed COVID-19 case within a 28-day span. If those facilities report additional cases during that time period, the outbreak is considered ongoing, he said.
At this point there have been no Floyd County Jail inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19, Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter said.
However, they did get an inmate in at the Floyd jail from Bartow County on Tuesday. The jail staff has isolated that inmate as well as any contacts, and tests were pending as of Wednesday afternoon.
There have been seven staff members within the past month who have either been quarantined or tested positive, Burkhalter said.
Millsap said those incarcerated in the Bartow jail are receiving medical care.
“My jail staff and I took an oath to protect and serve, this includes people who are incarcerated as well,” he said in a letter.
He said visitation until the quarantine is lifted will be limited to video visitation, phone calls or emails with people in custody.
“Please do not call and ask if your relative or loved one has tested positive,” he said. “Due to HIPPA regulations we cannot release this information to you. If the inmate tests positive they will be told the results of their test and they can share it with you.”
Floyd County commissioners approved a proposed firearm policy for law enforcement retirees.
The policy allows law enforcement officers to keep their firearm after 10 years of service to the county when they retire.
“This is a nationwide practice to honor officers with a sentimental token of appreciation at the time of their retirement,” County Manager Jamie McCord said before the Tuesday vote. “We’d like to continue that process and standardize it.”
This will apply to law enforcement officers who work in the Floyd County Police Department, Floyd County Sheriff’s Office, Floyd County Prison and Floyd County District Attorney’s Office.
During the board’s caucus, McCord gave a report on the most recent Joint Services Committee meeting with city officials, including the recent talks of annexation.
“From our standpoint, it doesn’t hurt us,” he said. “But (for) county schools, it’ll be huge.”
Commissioners voiced concern for the school system, which would lose a lot of property tax revenue and state funding if some neighborhoods are shifted to the city school system.
Commissioner Rhonda Wallace also voiced concern about how it would affect Rome City Schools, which already has a large number of students. She said while many people in the Celanese and Horseleg Creek area live closer to Rome High and Middle schools, they prefer the county’s Model school district.
“I’ve had so many people contact me, saying they want their child to go to Model and Johnson and that’s why they live in that area,” Wallace said.
In a Rome City Schools meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Lou Byars said the school system could handle an influx of new students if the city did annex any or all of the neighborhoods.
McCord went on to say that this has become primarily a school issue and said the school boards might have to sit down and talk to figure out the best course of action.
Toward the beginning of the meeting, the Commission also gave special recognition to state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, for his service to the area in the Georgia General Assembly.
Hufstetler has served in the Senate since 2013, but before that, he had served on the County Commission. Chair Scotty Hancock recalled being director of 911 and worrying about bringing his budget to Hufstetler to approve.
As part of the special recognition, the Commission gave Hufstetler a lantern, as a metaphor for “lighting the way.”
People in line to vote early Wednesday said the wait time was still around an hour, but the process moved a lot more smoothly than the first two days.
Jack Harris and Lori Harris both said they felt comfortable with how long it took to cast their ballots and the poll workers are doing a good job. Poll watchers confirmed the lines were moving more smoothly at the two local sites, the Floyd County Administration Building and Garden Lakes Baptist Church.
According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, 241,706 people statewide had cast their ballots in person as of the close of polls Tuesday.
Floyd County Chief Elections Clerk Robert Brady said he had expected a large turnout as far back as June, but was still surprised to see so many people coming to the polls.
“We’ve been telling people to expect long waits and to expect long lines, and to use the absentee ballot process,” Brady said Wednesday. “Now they’re not doing that, and these long lines are coming into existence that haven’t been seen in Floyd County before.”
Brady estimated that around 2,000 people had voted in person in Floyd County so far this week. Additionally, as of noon, the elections office had logged in 2,100 completed absentee ballots out of the 15,089 they’ve mailed out.
“It’s still stacked up, there’s a lot of folks, but I’m glad to see it,” Brady said. “It’s just not as disastrous as it has been.”
While the first two days saw some system glitches statewide, it seemed Wednesday that the problem had been fixed. Locally, they’ve added additional computers at the voting sites to check people in.
Poll workers have also had to deal with the challenge of voters bringing in their absentee ballots and wanting to vote in person instead. Brady has now set up the precincts so that those people are taken out of line and brought to a poll worker assigned to officially cancel their absentee ballot so they can be issued a voting card.
As far as security measures go, Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington said they have provided poll workers with radios for the Nov. 3 election.
Those radios are currently being tested at polling locations.
“We’re getting (poll workers) used to the radios,” Herrington said. “They’re for calling in the case of an emergency or even if there’s a problem with IT or whatever.”
He also notified the county that EMA has a disinfecting fogger that could be used to disinfect polling stations at regular intervals.
“It’s here and if they want to use that for disinfecting areas, that’s OK with us,” Herrington said.
Early voting will continue at the Floyd County Administration Building and Garden Lakes Baptist Church will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday.
This weekend both polling locations will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, the county building will be open the same time, but Garden Lakes will only be open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
On Thursday at noon, the Floyd County Board of Elections will meet in the Berry Shorter Room of the River Forum Center to discuss finances, a new grant and other operational duties for Election Day.
The Peach State Marching Festival will go forward on Oct. 24, Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars told board members.
“We’re going to do everything we can to have a marching band festival,” Byars said in the Tuesday pre-meeting caucus at Main Elementary School. “We want our bands to have something.”
The event often brings marching bands from schools across the state each year.
Byars said they’ve worked out social distancing plans for the festival at Barron Stadium and feels they can continue with the program safely.
The superintendent also touched briefly during the caucus on the school system’s readiness if the city moves forward with annexation talks.
Rome city commissioners recently expressed interest in annexing neighborhoods that are in the county, but are surrounded by the city — such as the Celanese/Riverside neighborhood or the Honeysuckle Ridge neighborhood.
“There are five areas I’m aware of that are islands within the city limits,” Byars said.
Rather than weighing in on whether the city should annex any or all of the neighborhoods, Byars assured board members that the system “is prepared for whatever decision the city makes.”
He said the school system has built new buildings with the idea that they may need increased capacity and is in a good position to absorb all of the students they would need to.
“We’re prepared in the short term or long term if the talks continue,” he said. “They may not do anything.”