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Albany steps up measures to limit spread of coronavirus
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ALBANY — City employees will return to more working at home as the staff, as has much of the community and nation, been affected by the spike in novel coronavirus cases.

“It’s still quite a bit,” Albany City Manager Sharon Subadan said of the impact on workers. “Last week there were over 50 employees who were either quarantined or infected. That number keeps rising.”

The city also has closed its drive-through utility payment option temporarily after an employee who worked there tested positive for COVID-19. The moves come as the medical community deals with a spike of new COVID-19 cases that occurred after the holiday season. At Phoebe Putney Health System facilities in Albany and Americus Wednesday, 126 patients were hospitalized for the virus, 105 at Phoebe’s main site and its Phoebe North Campus, both in Albany, and 21 at Phoebe Sumter in Americus.

“One of the challenges we’ve had is in the drive-through,” Subadan said.

Utility customers are being given the options of enhanced features for paying online and a remote drop site for making payments.

The city also has suspended operations at recreation facilities.

On Tuesday, new measures were put into place to allow employees who are able to do so to work from home. Supervisors also were given latitude in scheduling to limit the number of employees working in offices at the same time.

Albany City Commission meetings will be held in a hybrid model, with some commission members attending in person and some joining remotely.

“We’re allowing public hearings to happen in person,” Subadan said. “This was a problem last time because people weren’t always able to participate.”

In instances when an issue brings out a large number of residents wishing to comment, precautions will be taken to ensure there are not too many people crowded into the meeting space.

That was the case in September when the commission debated a face mask ordinance. The ordinance passed by a 4-3 margin on Sept. 3, 2020.

“When we had the mask ordinance and we had a large number of people in the room, we had the police monitoring the number of people,” Subadan said.

The Albany Police Department also is continuing to enforce the city’s mask ordinance, which is enforceable at any time the infection rate is greater than 100 individuals per 100,000 in population in the city.

“It absolutely is in effect,” Subadan said of the mask ordinance. “Other provisions of the governor’s order are in effect.”

During the pandemic, the Dougherty County government has allowed employees who can do so to work from home. In early January, Dougherty County Administrator Mike McCoy sent a list of guidelines to employees reminding them of protocols in place. Those include wearing face masks in buildings and county vehicles and equipment, staggered lunch breaks to avoid crowded break rooms, social distancing, and encouraging frequent hand-washing and sanitizing of surfaces.

Employees who exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 or who potentially had been exposed to the virus also were instructed to stay home and get tested.

Albany Tech to introduce two new course offerings in spring
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ALBANY Albany Technical College has added two new programs: Video and Film Editor Technical Certificate of Credit and Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies Degree, officials with the college announced Wednesday.

Both new programs start spring 2021 at the college. More than 71 different programs of study are offered at Albany Technical College with hundreds of degrees, diplomas, and technical certificates of credit.

College officials say offering new programs that are marketable in the industry allows students to have more choices while at the same time answering the needs of the region.

“We are pleased to be providing these opportunities to those interested in a meaningful career with good wages,” Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs Emmett Griswold said in a news release. “Albany Technical College offers a wide range of majors with degrees, diplomas, and technical certificates of credit choices. We are constantly examining the industries in our part of the state to assess the needs of employers.”

Video and Film Editor is a 19-hour certificate designed to prepare students for employment in video and film production. Students will learn the creative and technical aspects of video production and editing through classroom and hands-on projects. The technical courses apply to the diploma and degree in the Design and Media Production Technology program. Film and video editors manipulate moving images that entertain or inform an audience. They collaborate with a director to determine the overall vision of the production. They typically work in studios or office settings.

The employment of film and video editors is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. Production companies and video freelancers work with new content delivery methods, such as mobile devices or through online TV, which may lead to more work for editors and camera operators. The average annual salary for a video and film editor is $32,000.

The Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies program is a 60-hour degree designed to prepare students for employment in various positions in today’s technology industry fields. This program offers students learning opportunities that develop higher-level academic skills required for job acquisition, retention and advancement. It is specifically open to students who have already completed another approved technical or industrial program of study. The program emphasizes a continuation of technical studies theory and practical applications necessary for successful employment. Program graduates receive an associate of applied science degree in technical studies and will be qualified for jobs as technicians.

The Associate of Applied Science in Technical Studies program allows students to specialize in an area of interest, including electrical construction, engineering graphics, mechatronics or welding. This specialization gives students additional skills that can be used in possible business ownership and management.

The college’s video and film editor technical certificate of credit link is www.albanytech.edu/academics/areas-of-study/general-core/784-design-and-media-production-technology.

The associate of applied science in technical studies degree link is www.albanytech.edu/academics/areas-of-study/engineering-electronics/1283-technical-studies.

Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau sees light at the end of the tunnel
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ALBANY — As businesses go, few have been hit as hard as places of lodging during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused the cancellation of business conferences, concerts, many sporting events, and other events both large and small.

In Albany, hotels and motels fared somewhat better than those in other communities in the state, and that was actually owing to the influx of medical professionals who came in to help during the worst of the pandemic.

In Albany, hotel occupancy was at 57 percent for 2020, down 19 percent from the previous year, but better than the statewide average of a 39 percent reduction in occupancy, said Rashelle Beasley, director of tourism at the Albany Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We had traveling nurses coming in,” she said. “With the nursing shortage, you had nurses coming in from all over — Oklahoma, New York in the early days. Because of Phoebe (Putney Memorial Hospital) being overwhelmed, not just with COVID patients but the normal patients, they had to increase the number of staff at a very quick rate.”

The CVB pitched in, helping to welcome those medical professionals, some of whom stayed for periods of up to 13 weeks or even six months, by such activities as presenting gift bags and providing other services.

The hotels themselves assisted as well, adjusting rates to help the workers whose allowances for lodging were not as great as the average cost of a room, Beasley said. The hotel staff also, when possible, established separate sections for day and night shifts to provide quiet accommodations.

“We delivered a lot of welcome bags,” Beasley said. “We also fed a lot of our hotel staff, who were working around the clock. Some of our hotel managers weren’t even going home.”

The CVB also marketed Albany as a destination where visitors could participate in numerous outdoor activities available in a more rural setting. It also worked to market through travel writers and bloggers during this period, landing mentions in major publications and websites.

“It was over $2 million in media (benefits),” Beasley said.

One hopeful sign is that although many entertainment and festivals could not be held in 2020, organizers have not given up. Economic losses due to not holding those traditional events was estimated at $6 million over the year.

“We are happy to say 90 percent of our events were rescheduled for this year, if they can be carried out safely,” Beasley said.

There also is a sense of hope around the country that with the arrival of vaccines and the appearance of warmer weather, the current spike will begin to dissipate.

“Our big thing is going to be in the summertime with our reunions and family reunions, where we will be able to promote during the summer not only our hotels but the outdoor activities,” Beasley said. “The fact that we are about to continue to host events or reschedule events, we hope we will be able to do these in April.

“It’s important for our economy, but it’s also important to our community. It also will show we’re at a turnaround point.”