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Cobb brings heft to Northwest Ga.14th Congressional District

Starting in January, a tiny slice of Cobb will be the fourth most populous “county” in the Northwest Georgia 14th Congressional District.

The 77,914 people in Southwest Cobb — including the cities of Austell and Powder Springs — were drawn into the district during a special General Assembly session this fall, based on the 2020 census. Gov. Kemp has not yet signed the map into law but has not voiced any objections.

Floyd County, with 98,584 residents, is the third-largest in the 14th district, according to analysis by the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.

Whitfield County, with 102,864 people, is second and Paulding County is the largest, with 168,661 people. Those four counties account for more than 58% of the population in the 11-county district.

The other counties where voters will help choose the region’s U.S. House representative next year are: Catoosa, 67,872; Chattooga, 24,965; Dade, 16,251; Gordon, 57,544; Murray, 39,973; Polk, 42,853; and Walker, 67,654.

Ten of the counties are entirely within the district. Just 10.17% of Cobb County — an area that went heavily for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election — is in the 14th.

More than three-quarters of the district’s total population is of voting age, according to the analysis. Whites make up 68.07% — the highest ratio in the state — and 13.58% of the district is Black. Hispanics account for 12.69% of the population.

While that’s not a major change to Floyd County voters, a number of residents will find themselves with different state legislators on their ballots.

The county will still be divided into three House districts, but part of one will be based in Gordon County instead of Bartow.

House District 5, currently represented by Matt Barton, R-Calhoun, will absorb the Shannon area, down to Wayside Road.

House District 12, currently represented by Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, will cover the western and southern part of Floyd, including Cave Spring and Lindale, and all of Chattooga County.

House District 13, currently represented by Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, takes in the city of Rome and Silver Creek and runs east to the Bartow County line.

Also, the state Senate district currently dominated by Floyd County voters will shift farther into Bartow County for the 2022 elections.

Currently, Senate District 52 covers all of Floyd County and parts of Bartow, Gordon and Chattooga counties. It’s represented by Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome.

Beginning next year, it will cover most of Floyd and Bartow and a small piece of western Gordon County.

The Armuchee area of Floyd and points north will be part of Senate District 53, with Chattooga, Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties. That district is currently represented by Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

2021: New names, new hospital management

Two of the largest business deals in Floyd County history occurred this year — and both of them involved local hospitals.

Workers outside the hospital formerly known as Redmond Regional Medical Center installed temporary signs with the hospital’s new moniker — AdventHealth Redmond.

That change came by way of the $635 million sale of the hospital from HCA to AdventHealth. Another change came by way of the purchase of the parent company of Floyd Medical Center, as well as Polk Medical Center and Cherokee Medical Center, by Atrium Health for $650 million in July. While all three hospitals’ names remain the same they are operated by Atrium Health Floyd.

Both hospitals were competitive and profitable at the time of their respective changes in management, but these acquisitions didn’t happen in a vacuum. There were more than two dozen health system mergers and acquisitions during 2021, including Piedmont Cartersville Medical Center.

The Redmond deal includes the hospital on Redmond Road along with Redmond’s related physician clinics, outpatient services and all existing equity interests. Floyd’s deal is a little different. The hospitals themselves are owned by individual hospital authorities.

Up to this point each hospital has cornered specific markets within the region. Floyd is the obstetrics hospital and Redmond is the heart hospital. There had been attempted forays by each into the other’s areas of concentration but despite protracted court battles none had come to the point of fruition as of 2021.

Overall, the message coming out of each sale has been positive.

“Redmond Regional Medical Center is a high-performing hospital with long-tenured leaders, team members and physicians who care deeply about this community,” said Mike Murrill, the CEO of AdventHealth Floyd, Gordon and Murray, in October when the deal was sealed. “I look forward to building on the facility’s legacy of clinical excellence, being active partners in the community and working with this team to care for our neighbors for years to come.”

Another positive message was voiced by the Floyd leadership — ready to hit the ground running.

“Now we’re off to the races,” said Kurt Stuenkel, Floyd CEO, after the acquisition in July. “We’ve already begun some of the things that we planned to utilize in this stream of capital commitment. Our helicopter landing pad, continued renovation of the Family Birth Center — all of those things we’re able to bring more quickly to fruition now.”

Is the omicron variant more severe in children? What we know so far

Although early data hints the now-dominant omicron variant is associated with more mild illness compared to other versions of the coronavirus, we still don’t have solid answers, especially regarding how the mutant affects different age groups.

But emerging evidence shows children are getting infected with the coronavirus and being hospitalized at alarming rates relative to pre-omicron days, particularly those who are unvaccinated. As a result, kids younger than 5 years old, who are not yet eligible for vaccination, are making up large portions of pediatric COVID-19 surges across the globe.

Still, many experts advise heightened caution rather than panic.

Nationwide, more than 900 children with COVID-19 have been admitted to a hospital as of the week of Dec. 20, up from 800 the week prior, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. That’s about 1.1 hospitalizations per 100,000 children, which is still lower than the rate of admission during a typical flu season (about 3 to 5 hospitalizations per 100,000 kids).

“While it’s still early, we’ve not yet seen any data from the omicron variant to make us worry that the risk of severe illness among children has changed,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The New York Times.

“These relatively low risks and our ability to lower them further may help ease some anxieties over the next few months.”

As scientists learn more, experts suggest adults get vaccinated, especially those around kids too young to get shots, avoid crowded indoor spaces, wear masks around young children and try to take rapid COVID-19 tests before gathering with others.

On Christmas Eve, the New York State Department of Health issued a “health advisory” to health care workers warning of surging pediatric hospitalizations tied to COVID-19 in New York City and surrounding areas where omicron is prevalent.

Health officials said there was a four-fold increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations among people 18 and younger from the week of Dec. 5 until Christmastime. A news release said none of the 5- to 11-year-olds in the hospital with the disease were fully vaccinated, and only a quarter of those between 12 and 17 had all their shots.

“The risks of COVID-19 for children are real,” Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in the release. “Protect your children who are five years and older by getting them fully vaccinated and protect children under five by making sure all of those around them have protection through vaccination, boosters, mask-wearing, avoiding crowds and testing.”

In Philadelphia, a study of more than 7,500 K-12 students who tested positive for COVID-19 found a nearly five-fold increase in positive tests beginning about Dec. 13. Most of those who tested positive were unvaccinated.

“These data support the fact that transmission is now increasing disproportionately among children compared to adults,” three doctors with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote in a blog post. “Nevertheless, we are seeing cases of moderate to severe disease among hospitalized children, including otherwise healthy children, particularly those who have not been vaccinated.”

Just starting in U.S.

The spikes in pediatric hospitalizations are beginning to worry health officials in states that have yet to see omicron surges.

However, experts say some children in the hospital with COVID-19 were initially admitted for other reasons and learned they were positive upon admission testing. The same trend is occurring in South Africa, where the omicron variant was first detected.

The U.S. is only starting to experience what other countries have been facing for weeks, particularly South Africa, where kids under 12 are not eligible for vaccination.

Research based on 211,000 COVID-19 test results in South Africa found children have a 20% higher risk of hospitalization when infected with omicron. Most diagnoses involve bronchiolitis and pneumonia, often coupled with severe gastrointestinal symptoms and dehydration.

Still, kids were 51% less likely to get infected with omicron compared to adults, “and, overall, the risk of children being admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 complications remains low,” Shirley Collie, chief health analytics actuary at Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, said in a news release.

Most kids experience mild illness with short-lived symptoms such as headache, fever, sore throat and nasal congestion.

Dr. Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in South Africa, told the South African Broadcasting Corporation that the trends she’s seeing among kids and young adults there are “concerning.”

“In the past, children (under 12 years old) used to get a COVID infection … and it wouldn’t really put them down, it wouldn’t really send them to the hospital in big numbers to be admitted,” Mathivha said.

“We are now seeing them coming in with moderate to severe symptoms needing supplemental oxygen, needing supportive therapy, needing to stay in the hospital for quite a number of days.”

She said a 15-year-old with no other health conditions “literally deteriorated in front of our eyes” once admitted after experiencing just two days of fever and failing to respond to treatments.

Mathivha said the pattern of pediatric hospitalizations is “going to be a major problem for us. Our hospitals were not built to house a lot of children. Because naturally children do not get that sick in multitudes.

“We will not be able to accommodate them, and I’m not saying this to make people panic,” Mathivha said. “I am saying this to say, all these preventive measures we take to interrupt transmission of COVID, let them be applied to the children as well.”

Anzlea Bracewell, a student at Johnson Elementary School

RomeGACares is sending relief for people and pets after Kentucky tornadoes

RomeGaCares is once again springing into action in the wake of devastating tornadoes in Kentucky.

On Monday, a caravan of donated supplies as well as about 20 volunteers will be making the trip to two of the hardest hit counties in Kentucky to help human and animal victims of the recent disaster.

“We’re going to Benton in Marshall County and to Mayfield in Graves County,” said Chaplain David Thornton of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department. “But we still need a lot more donations if we’re going to meet our goal.”

One of the big items he hopes will be donated is generators. They’d like to take 10 to 15 generators since much of the affected area is still without power and being hit with winter temperatures.

“We also need nonperishable food items as well as stuff for kids,” Thornton said. “We’d love to have backpacks. We try to pass out between 300 and 400 backpacks with toys and candy for the kids, so that’s an important thing people can donate. Juice boxes, flashlights, utility gloves, warm clothes, blankets are all needed.”

A very special request by Thornton is for the use of a semi truck and someone to drive it. He said they’ve already loaded up two trucks and would very much like another one for additional supplies.

Volunteers said they’d also appreciate large boxes, such as the ones appliances come in, to pack up warm clothes which tend to be thick and bulky.

Donations are being accepted through Thursday at the RomeGaCares warehouse at North Rome Church of God, 1929 N. Broad St. Monetary donations can be mailed to RomeGaCares, 2526 New Calhoun Highway, 30161, or can be dropped off at the Floyd County Jail or the courthouse at 3 Government Plaza, Suit 110.

Help for pets displaced in the storm

Oftentimes the animal victims of disasters get overlooked but Floyd County PAWS Director Jeff Mitchell said he hopes the community can also donate to help some of the four-legged victims.

Thornton said the last time RomeGaCares helped disaster victims in Louisiana, a team of volunteers went down the road feeding dozens of animals who had been left behind as families fled the area.

PAWS will be a drop-off location for donations to animal shelters in the affected areas of Kentucky.

“We’d like to add supplies for animals to those that are being sent to help people,” Mitchell said. “These donations will be specifically for pets.”

Mitchell said some of the items they’re hoping to receive include wet and dry dog and cat food, crates or kennels, cat litter, pet-safe cleaning supplies, collars, bowls and paper towels.

“I’ve called around to a few of the shelters in the affected areas and many of them have sustained some damage,” he said. “They’re all facing the problem now with a lot of stray pets. Many homes were destroyed so pets were displaced. Animal shelters there are having to try to capture those animals, keep them sheltered and safe and then reunite them with their families. It can be overwhelming. They need all the help we can send to them.”

Donations can be dropped off at PAWS, 99 North Ave., through the weekend. Even if the shelter is closed, donations can be left under the awning. Monetary donations can be dropped off during open hours or can be mailed to RomeGaCares.

Thornton said this relief effort is being shouldered by many in the community. He was happy to report that 17 churches have partnered with them for this mission.