Cobb County declares state of emergency as COVID cases surge

Cobb County's chairwoman signed an emergency declaration Thursday largely because ICU beds at medical facilities like this Wellstar hospital in Cobb County have filled to 95% capacity due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. (AJC file photo)

Cobb County's chairwoman signed an emergency declaration Thursday largely because ICU beds at medical facilities like this Wellstar hospital in Cobb County have filled to 95% capacity due to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. (AJC file photo)

Cobb County Chairwoman Lisa Cupid declared a countywide State of Emergency late Thursday.

The order was prompted by a surge in COVID-19 cases spurred by the Delta variant that has caused ICU beds in Cobb County hospitals to fill near capacity.

In the Georgia hospital region that includes Cobb County, more than 91 percent of all hospital beds were in use as of Friday. The utilization of ICU beds was even greater, at 95 percent.

The emergency order, which will be in effect until at least Sept. 17, activates Cobb County’s emergency operations plan. That gives the county authority to deploy personnel and resources to local hospitals and help state agencies that may need equipment and supplies to combat the surge. The emergency order also empowers Cupid to restrict areas and impose a curfews for public safety.

“This declaration will open the doors to provide assistance to others in the county who need it and highlight the critical stress this surge has put on our local healthcare facilities,” the chairwoman said in a news release.

Cupid’s order, which can be extended if necessary, “strongly encouraged” Cobb County residents to start wearing masks at all indoor public places and to get vaccinated as soon as possible if they haven’t already done so.

The order also urged business owners to reimplement measures to get customers to wear masks indoors as a safeguard for employees and other customers.

The 14-day case rate in Cobb was at 111 confirmed cases per 100,000 residents on July 20, according to Cobb and Douglas Public Health. By Friday, that rate had swelled to 651 cases per 100,000 residents.

The surge of new cases has taken its biggest toll on local hospitals, which county officials say are “critically low” on critical care beds. Local experts worry it could put too heavy a strain on the healthcare system if the surge continues to spread.

According to the health department, hospitalizations in Cobb County have increased 800% since the recent surge began.

On Friday, Cobb County released a public service announcement video of local officials urging stressing the need for residents to get vaccinated and wear masks.

“Right now our hospitals are very full and staffing is very low and they need help. So let us all pitch in together,” said Dr. Janet Memark, District Health Director of Cobb & Douglas Public Health. “Please get vaccinated and wear your mask indoors as we fight this.”

Cobb and Douglas Public Health will provide free COVID tests and vaccines at all its facilities in Cobb County as part of the emergency order. The health department will also dispatch “outreach teams” anywhere 20 or more people are interested in getting vaccinated. The agency can also do in-home shots for homebound residents.

On Tuesday, County Manager Dr. Jackie McMorris reinstituted a mask mandate, requiring all visitors, employees, vendors and contractors to wear a face covering before entering indoor county facilities.

Cobb County allocated about $2.4 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, funding to the Cobb Emergency Management Agency. The agency used the federal dollars to construct a pole barn along Austell Road and stockpile it with a 90-day inventory of personal protection equipment and medical supplies. County spokesman Ross Cavitt said healthcare providers have started requesting PPE and supplies from that reserve.

Cobb County has recorded nearly 86,000 confirmed cases and over 1,137 deaths since the pandemic hit Georgia more than 17 months ago.

Like many areas of the nation, Cobb’s case load began decreasing after vaccines became available in December. But only 55% of Cobb County residents have taken their first shot, and just 49% have received a second dose.

The national goal is for 70% of the population to be fully vaccinated.

Cobb’s 2-week case rate began spiking in July when the Delta variant started becoming the predominant strain of the virus in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta strain is nearly twice as contagious as previous variants and poses a more severe risk to unvaccinated people.

Cobb County Chairwoman Lisa Cupid signs an order declaring the county in a State of Emergency due to the latest surge in COVID-19 cases on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Cobb County)

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AJC staff writer Carrie Teegardin contributed to this story.