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The omicron variant is spreading rapidly all over the country, but hospitalization and death rates remain relatively low. The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases topped 280,000 this week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s tracker. It’s a record number of new cases in the country; the last time the number of cases hit a peak close to that was January. Public health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky say the new variant appears to be less severe than ones in the past but still emphasize the need to follow public health protocols like getting vaccinated and wearing a mask to curb the spread of the virus. 

Cobb County once again broke its single-day record for new COVID-19 cases Thursday with 1,751 infections reported. The previous record set the day prior, was 1,350. The news comes the day after six major metro Atlanta healthcare networks issued a joint statement warning of an approaching influx of coronavirus patients in their emergency rooms. 

Flight troubles caused by the pandemic and severe weather are making it difficult for millions of Americans to get back home following the holiday season.  

The anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot arrives this week with the congressional committee investigating the attack confronting a series of difficult questions, including how forcefully to flex its subpoena power and whether the Supreme Court will stymie a major element of its inquiry. As the nine-member panel continues to examine the events leading up to the worst attack on Congress in centuries, it is waiting to see whether the Supreme Court will refuse a request from former President Donald J. Trump to block the committee’s access to White House records related to the riot. The committee also has not ruled out moving to subpoena members of Congress, or Mr. Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence. 

Three historically Black colleges and universities plan to begin the spring semester with virtual instruction when classes resume. Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College will only offer online classes from Jan. 12 through Jan. 28. The colleges plan to resume in-person classes on Jan. 31. The changes were announced Thursday due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 due to the omicron variant. About 87% of all hospital beds in Georgia were occupied at 3 p.m. Thursday, including 82% of intensive care beds, according to health data.  

The Atlanta Veterans Affairs hospital is investigating allegations that an employee was fraudulently selling CPR certification cards to employees who had not taken a class in the resuscitation techniques. Known as “Basic Life Support cards” they are required for some VA employees. The Atlanta VA confirmed the incident, discovered earlier this month, but declined to provide details. It sent The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a statement saying: “An internal review and investigation is ongoing to gather more details about the circumstances and any personnel involved. The results of the investigation will determine what actions if any are to be taken. 

The EPA announced the new rules in a Dec. 27 press release that Sterigenics, a Cobb County medical sterilization facility will have to self-report its emissions of a cancer-causing gas to a federal toxin database under new requirements announced this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The plant has sterilized medical equipment since the 1970s using ethylene oxide, an odorless gas regulated by the federal government. This is the latest response to the growing public backlash over the facility. In 2016, the EPA determined that the chemical is a more potent carcinogen than previously acknowledged, and the plant near Smyrna was subsequently flagged in a federal report mapping area with elevated cancer risks. The new mandate applies to 29 sterilization facilities across the U.S., including eight owned by Sterigenics, that will have to begin tracking their emissions in January 2022 for their first report in 2023. In documents detailing its decision, the EPA wrote that more than 200,000 people live within a five-mile radius of the Cobb facility, including 12,092 children under age 5. There are 50 schools in that radius, as well. 

Georgia Bulldogs easily won the Orange Bowl, 34-11 against Michigan. The win comes nearly four weeks after Georgia’s loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game. The win sets them up for a rematch with the Crimson Tide for the national title.  

Keep Smyrna Beautiful is hosting a recycling event on Jan. 8 entitled Bring One for the Chipper. This is Keep Smyrna Beautiful’s annual Christmas tree recycling event that will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 8 at The Home Depot, 2450 Cumberland Parkway SE, Atlanta. Instead of ending up in a landfill, the thousands of live trees taken at this event are chipped by Davey Tree Company, which makes the mulch from the trees available to businesses, schools, and residents free of charge. Not accepted at the event are: Artificial trees, Trees with lights or ornaments, Flocked trees, Garlands, or wreaths (the wire makes them ineligible for chipping). Tree seedlings are available to participants as supplies last. This event is open to everyone and free of charge.  Bring One for the Chipper is held in partnership with the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation. Information: kgbf.org, KeepSmyrnaBeautiful.com/donate

State workers will get a day off to observe Juneteenth for the first time this year, subject to the approval of the General Assembly. A memo Gov. Brian Kemp sent to state agency heads last week lists Juneteenth — marking the freedom of enslaved Americans at the end of the Civil War — as one of 13 holidays when state offices will be closed. Cobb County also voted to mark Juneteenth as an official holiday. The holiday will be observed on June 20 this year because June 19 — the actual Juneteenth holiday — falls on a Sunday.

No one took home the growing Powerball jackpot after Saturday night’s drawing. The estimated jackpot is now more than $520 million with a cash value of $317 million. The Powerball jackpot has not been won since a lottery player in California claimed the nearly $700 million prize in October. Saturday night’s winning numbers were: 6-12-39-48-50-7

At least four tickets claimed a combined $5 million in prize money. The next drawing is set for Monday night.

Happy New Year and have a wonderful week…


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