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Increase in coronavirus cases noted for Albany city employees
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ALBANY — The city of Albany is feeling the impact of a post-holiday COVID surge, combined with the arrival of the more contagious omicron variant.

Albany City Manager Steven Carter sent an email on Tuesday to elected officials alerting them of the increasing number of employees affected, Albany City Commission members said.

“It looks like we’re getting hit,” Mayor Bo Dorough said late Tuesday afternoon. “This morning we started with 16 (confirmed cases among employees), and now we have 22 cases. We have 32 more in quarantine.”

Individuals who have been exposed to someone with the virus but are not symptomatic are supposed to quarantine at home. The U.S. Centers for Disease and Control recently updated its recommendation on the quarantine period, shortening it from 14 to five days.

The 54 employees who are either sick or at home represent roughly 5 percent of the city’s work force of 1,100, the mayor noted.

“I think we’re in good shape right now,” Dorough said. “When you start getting up to 100 people out of work … that’s 10 percent of your work force.”

The city has learned to continue delivering services during the four previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic, he said. During the pandemic, the Albany Utilities building has remained closed to in-person transactions, which has protected employees in the office, for example.

With the police and fire departments already about 20 percent understaffed, that previous experience may be needed.

“One of the advantages of this going on for so long is we have a procedure for responding during a surge in infections,” Dorough said.

The public can help slow the spread of the disease by wearing face masks, practicing social distancing and, most importantly, getting vaccinated, he said.

The Dougherty County School System seemed to be in better shape compared to the city of Albany, as of Wednesday.

Since the holiday recess began, 11 of the system’s 2,200 employees and one student have been confirmed testing positive for the coronavirus, Schools Superintendent Kenneth Dyer said on Wednesday.

“We have not seen a significant surge in cases,” he said. “Some others are in quarantine. We’re monitoring the cases. We’re looking at the surges across the country.”

About 90 percent of system employees have been fully vaccinated, Dyer said. Staff returns from the holiday break on Monday, with students set to return on Tuesday.

The school system had considered relaxing its requirement that students and staff wear face masks while in school facilities to give individuals the choice of whether to mask up or not. However, after consulting with health officials and principals, masks still will be required for the foreseeable future when school resumes in January.

The Dougherty County government did not provide numbers for employees sickened and in quarantine. A Tuesday query from The Herald was considered a public records request under the state’s Open Records Law, and a response will be given within the three business days allowed to provide a response, Public Information Officer Wendy Howell said.

The county requires visitors to wear face masks in county-owned facilities, she said. Employees also are required to wear face masks in buildings, whether or not they are vaccinated.


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Late 2022 target date for new Albany transit station
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ALBANY — A new home for Albany Transit System bus facilities has been a long time coming, but now drivers who pass by the Oglethorpe Boulevard construction site are seeing the foundation being laid for the future of public transportation in the city.

Over a couple of decades, city leaders looked at various locations as a site for the bus station, with the process ultimately coming full circle back to the site of the former Trailways station at 310 W. Oglethorpe Blvd.

The city rented the station and eventually purchased the site for a little less than $1.5 million. It spent an additional $750,000 on various studies, including an archaeological assessment.

The old building was razed in 2020, but another snag was encountered earlier in 2021 when only one bidder responded to a city construction proposal.

After the rebidding process, the project moved forward with an expected price tag of $11.5 million.

“Everything is moving along smoothly,” Albany Transportation Director David Hamilton said. “We ran into some rain delays with the recent weather. They’re in the process of getting the foundation laid, (building) the bus ramps.”

The necessity of going through another round of bids delayed the anticipated completion date by about nine months.

“Hopefully, we’ll stay on schedule for October of ’22,” Hamilton said.

The transit system provides about 700,000 trips per year with an all-pressurized natural gas fleet.

In addition to city dollars, the new station is being funded through grants from the Federal Transit Administration and the state’s Road and Tollway Authority.

The bus station, which will be named for Albany civil rights pioneer Ola Mae Quartimon-Clemons, also will be a spur for economic development, Hamilton said.

In 1962, Quartimon-Clemons was arrested after she refused to move to the back of a city bus after paying her fare, predating by three years the more famous incident in Montgomery, Ala., involving Rosa Parks.

“We’re hoping the new facility will be a catalyst for economic growth in the Harlem district,” Hamilton said. “We’re hoping more economic growth will sprout out of this. We’re excited about it and can’t wait to see it completed.”


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Southwest Georgia health officials: New COVID surge has begun; get tests at proper sites
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ALBANY — The expected surge in COVID-19 cases in southwest Georgia related to holiday gatherings and the rapidly spreading omicron variant is here. The number of patients hospitalized with COVID at Phoebe Putney Health System hospitals has jumped 153% in the last two weeks, from 17 on Dec. 15 to 43 today.

Unfortunately, as the virus spreads incredibly quickly, more people with mild or no symptoms are seeking COVID tests in area emergency centers.

“Anyone who is seriously ill or experiencing a true medical emergency should absolutely seek immediate care at the closest emergency center,” Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital Medical Director for Emergency Services Dr. James E. Black said in a Wednesday news release. “Your local ER, however, should not be the place you go simply to be tested for COVID. Our emergency rooms are extremely busy right now, and we don’t want patients to experience delays in care because we’re overwhelmed by people coming in for a test.”

While hospitalizations are up, COVID infections are increasing at an even more alarming rate. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, the seven-day moving average of daily confirmed COVID cases statewide is at its highest point ever at more than 8,300.

“The transmissibility of the latest COVID variant is extremely concerning,” Southwest Health District Director Dr. Charles Ruis said. “The virus is spreading as rapidly as ever, which means it is extremely important to practice the safety precautions we have been stressing for almost two years. Testing also plays a vital role in trying to mitigate the spread of the virus right now. Public Health continues to provide free testing in all counties in our region. We encourage anyone with symptoms or those who have been exposed to take advantage of those testing options, rather than going to a busy emergency room.”

DPH continues to operate a mass testing site in Dougherty County on weekdays at 1150 W. Oakridge Drive. Free tests also are available outside the Dougherty County Health Department at 1710 S. Slappey Blvd. on weekends, though testing will be suspended this Friday and Saturday because of the New Year’s holiday, and Monday’s testing will be available at the health department rather than the mass site. Details of testing dates and times at public health facilities throughout the Southwest Health District are available at www.swhealthdistrict.org.

Anyone seeking a test from the health department is encouraged to pre-register before showing up at the site. They can do so online or by calling (844) 778-2455. Patients will be able to complete the entire testing process without getting out of their vehicle and should receive the results within 24-48 hours. Many drug stores continue to provide free testing, as well as self-tests for purchase, and Phoebe offers rapid testing at its urgent and primary care clinics where visit fees apply.

With vaccination rates in many counties in southwest Georgia remaining below 50%, physicians continue to plead with people to get vaccinated.

“We are grateful that serious illness is less common with this latest variant, but severe complications are still possible, especially for those who are not vaccinated,” Dr. Kathy Hudson, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s chief medical officer, said. “It is certainly not too late for unvaccinated individuals to get a shot, and anyone who qualifies for a booster shot should get that added level of protection as we expect to deal with this serious surge for several weeks.”


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