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Troup officials talk rising COVID-19 cases, vaccines in roundtable

On Friday, LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton hosted another Facebook Live roundtable discussion with Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews, West Point Mayor Steve Tramell, Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz, Troup County Schools Superintendent Brian Shumate and Wellstar West Georgia Medical Center President Coleman Foss about the latest information on COVID-19.

Thornton said the county is seeing a third spike in COVID-19 cases.

“It’s been coming on ever since the weather started getting colder,” Thornton said. “Certainly, the holidays in some ways have made it more difficult. We are seeing that on a nationwide basis. Thus far, Troup County has not entered the red zone, although there are many communities in Georgia that have.”

According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, as of Friday the seven-day moving average for Troup County is 22.3 positive COVID-19 cases per day.

Thornton said the uptick in cases throughout the community calls for an alert and to revisit the tips to social distance and avoid close quarters and crowds.

Mayor Bill Stankiewicz said he had tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday and is now in isolation with very mild symptoms.

“Hopefully by Christmas this will be over for me,” Stankiewicz said. “We’ve had other cases in our city. You really don’t know where you contract it. I went back and looked at where it was possible I got it from, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I have contacted everybody that I came in contact with over the past several days.”

Thornton said he had recently come in contact with someone with the virus and had to quarantine until he received a negative test.

Foss said the hospital was averaging 10 to 12 cases at the hospital a day but has seen the numbers recently rise.

“That number has climbed back up as high as 30, and it has come back a little bit right now to the mid 20s. That is actual positive cases that we’ve identified,” Foss said. “We also continue to monitor the nursing homes.”

Foss also asked the community to remember the three W’s: Wash your hands. Wear your mask. Watch your distance.

“Those things are so critical for us to be able to stop the spread,” Foss said.

Wellstar recently received its shipment of COVID-19 vaccines and will begin giving doses to staff on a volunteer basis.

“But in talking to my healthcare colleagues, even once we get the vaccine, there’s still the possibility that you could shed the disease if you got it,” Foss said. “You could be a potential spreader, so I foresee us wearing masks well into the spring and maybe the first of the summer.”

Foss said that he hopes to see more people get it as it becomes available.

“The vaccine is safe,” Foss said. “From what we’re hearing, there hasn’t been any deaths related to the vaccine, and it’s 99.5% effective.”

In West Point, Tramell said he is encouraging everyone to still wear their masks and keep their six feet distance.

“We’ve got to be diligent and like you said we are hopefully nearing a finish line,” Tramell said. “We can’t give up.”

Crews, who also operates a nursing home facility, said they received news that their staff and residents will be receiving the vaccine after Christmas.

“I am hearing a lot of people that have great concerns about taking the vaccine,” Crews said. “They’re worried about that it’s been developed too fast, what could be in the vaccine. They want to wait and see what happens to a few people before they receive a vaccine.”

Crews said he made the decision himself that the risks are too great not to go ahead with the vaccine at this time, and he personally plans to get it as quick as possible.

“I certainly look forward to that to that day that we can begin vaccination here in our community,” Crews said.

The school system had its last day of classes on Friday and will not return for in person classes until Jan. 11.

“Virtual works for some kids but virtual doesn’t work for all kids, and we need to be in school,” Shumate said. “There’s many districts around the country that have not darkened their doors since March. Some of these communities are falling apart.”

Shumate said he has seen youth crime rates and child abuse go up in other communities that do not offer in-person instruction.

In Troup County, Shumate said he has seen a positive reaction in the schools.

“People said in the very beginning, ‘you’re not going to be able to make these kids wear masks,’” Shumate said. “Kids aren’t the problem. It’s the adults. Kids wear the mask all day long. We have a case here or there, but for the most part, they’re doing very well.”

Shumate said most of the positive cases they have seen from students or teachers have not come from being in the school.

“Most of them come from the outside,” Shumate said. “We were doing pretty good up until Thanksgiving. Everybody predicted Thanksgiving would be bad.”

TCSS experienced an increase in positive cases and students quarantined immediately after returning from fall break the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Due to the number of positive cases in staff, TCSS had to close Troup County High School on Friday for in-person classes because the entire front office staff were quarantined.

“I do not anticipate shutting down schools for a long period of time,” Shumate said. “I am proud of our efforts and the support we’ve gotten. I think we’ve done it well.”

All the community leaders encouraged Troup County to social distance over the holidays to bring the numbers down.

“Don’t do what we did at Thanksgiving,” Stankiewicz said. “Don’t have big gatherings within the family. Stay in your bubble.”