A look at major coronavirus developments over the past week

Registered nurses Jesslyn Lewis (center) and Sasha Stewart (Right) conduct COVID-19 tests outside the Glynn County Health Department in Brunswick on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. RYON HORNE / RHORNE@AJC.COM

President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force warned that Georgia continues to see “widespread and expanding community viral spread” and that the state’s current policies aren’t enough to curtail COVID-19.

The task force “strongly recommends” Georgia adopt a statewide mask mandate. In doing so, the task force joined a chorus of public health officials, Democrats and others who say Gov. Brian Kemp’s refusal to order face coverings has plunged the state into deeper crisis and will prolong recovery.

The report said that some businesses — such as nightclubs, bars and gyms, currently open with some restrictions — should be closed in the highest risk counties.

The task force recommends that indoor dining at restaurants be limited to less than one-quarter of dining capacity. Right now, restaurants are allowed as many indoor diners as can be distanced 6 feet apart.

Social gatherings, now capped at 50 people in Georgia, should be limited to 10 or fewer people, the report said.

Georgia also needs to ramp up testing and contact tracing statewide, according to the report. And, it said, testing and infection control measures need to be expanded in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Though Kemp has encouraged Georgians to wear masks, Georgia is one of 16 states without some form of statewide mandate. Kemp said he believes such a requirement is unnecessary and unenforceable.

Georgia was one of the last states to order its residents to shelter in place in April and one of the most aggressive states to reopen its economy.

Here’s a look at other major developments related to the coronavirus over the past week:

A medical healthcare worker places a specimen into a container after testing a motorist for COVID-19 at a community testing site in Gainesville. (ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

Credit: ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE

Georgia set records for death count

Over the past three weeks, Georgia has set records for reported COVID-19 deaths. Deaths are a lagging indicator of the virus’ progression. Reported deaths bottomed out the week of June 28 but have climbed each week since.

Georgia now leads the nation in the rate of new daily cases per capita, ahead of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, California and Idaho, according to data published by The Washington Post.

Deaths reported on a given day typically do not occur on that day. They often occur days or potentially weeks earlier.

More than 900 in quarantine

Cherokee County, one of the earliest districts to begin the school year, reported more than 900 students and staff were quarantined. Etowah High School is closed until August 31 as administrators try to contain the rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases.

Etowah High School drew national attention last week after scores of students without masks were pictured shoulder to shoulder in a group photo on the first day of the fall semester. Cherokee requires masks only for staff. Health experts warned that the lack of masks and social distancing for students could contribute to the virus spreading.

Seniors at Etowah High School in Cherokee County posed for the traditional color-coordinated senior photo on Aug, 3, 2020, the first day back to classes in the COVID era. The photo went viral because the students are not wearing masks and crowded together for the shot.

Credit: Facebook

Credit: Facebook

Since reopening Aug. 3, there have been 59 positive COVID-19 tests reported in the district. The cases have resulted in two-week quarantines for 925 students and staff.

While Cherokee revises its plans for Etowah High, some parents in nearby Cobb and Gwinnett counties are pushing their local leaders to open schools. Both districts had announced that they were abandoning plans for in-person schooling, opting to start the year online. Both now say they are planning for a phased-in reopening, starting with younger students.

Kroger grocery stores are among major metro Atlanta retailers that recently began requiring customers to wear masks inside stores during the coronavirus pandemic. MATT KEMPNER / AJC

Credit: Matt Kempner

Credit: Matt Kempner

Kemp withdraws lawsuit challenging mask mandate

Kemp withdrew his lawsuit challenging the city of Atlanta’s mask mandate and coronavirus restrictions, ending a legal dispute between the governor and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Kemp vowed to instead sign an executive order that is expected to specify that local governments can’t order private businesses to require masks.

“Unfortunately, the mayor has made it clear that she will not agree to a settlement that safeguards the rights of private property owners in Georgia,” said Kemp, citing a “stalemate” in negotiations. “We will continue to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Georgians.”

Bottoms called Kemp’s remarks “woefully inaccurate” and accused him of trying to intentionally mislead the public. She added that she was “grateful that this lawsuit has been withdrawn and the time and resources of our city and state can be better used to combat COVID-19.”

Staff writers J. Scott Trubey, Greg Bluestein, Ty Tagami and Maureen Downey contributed to this article.

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