A look at major coronavirus developments over the past week

September 23, 2020 Athens - Students mostly wear face masks as they make their way through the campus in the University of Georgia campus in Athens on Wednesday, September 23, 2020. Maia Gibson was diagnosed with COVID near the start of the semester. She's okay now. Gibson now wants UGA to conduct more testing and enact other measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on the campus. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Since mid-July, Georgia has been on a downward trend in coronavirus cases.

The seven-day rolling average of new cases is down about 70% from the July peak and stands at 1,159, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data found. Hospitalizations also are down by about 60% from their peak.

Still, even with the improvement, the average of new cases remains about double what it was at the end of May.

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

A staff member at PruittHealth – Augusta Hills nursing home runs a rapid coronavirus test at the center. It’s part of the company’s effort to improve testing and meet new federal testing requirements. (CONTRIBUTED)

Credit: Courtesy: PruiittHealth

Credit: Courtesy: PruiittHealth

ExploreCORONAVIRUS IN GEORGIA/COMPLETE COVERAGE

Kemp touts improvements

At a recent press conference, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp highlighted improvements at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, which house residents most vulnerable to the virus.

On Sept. 15, 172 nursing homes in Georgia were in red zone counties, Kemp said. That number has declined to 49 facilities, according to the most recent data available.

An AJC analysis of the Department of Community Health data on long-term care homes shows that new coronavirus cases inside facilities have been trending down since July.

Kemp’s administration recently announced $78 million in new reimbursement funds to boost testing at long-term care centers.

The latest White House report continues to focus on the need to increase testing, tackle outbreaks in college towns and reduce spread within long-term care facilities.

Georgia now ranks 28th in the nation in new cases after previously ranking at the top in August.

In this file photo, here is Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp after greeting Vice President Mike Pence at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Concerns remain, especially with coming flu season

Dr. Harry J. Heiman, a clinical associate professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health, said Georgia appears to have settled into an elevated plateau in cases, which he described as “a much higher level than what is desirable.”

Health officials are concerned about that with the approaching flu season.

COVID-19 and influenza feature similar symptoms, though COVID-19 is more dangerous and more contagious, health experts say. It’s more important than ever to get a flu shot this season to avoid what’s been coined a "twin-demics of COVID 19 plus influenza.”

In this file photo, a sign says it all to passing motorists at Murphey Candler Elementary School at 6775 S Goddard Road in Lithonia, DeKalb County. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

DeKalb County and APS prepare for in-person classes

With local COVID-19 case numbers dipping, the DeKalb County School District and Atlanta Public Schools are preparing to transition toward offering in-person instruction.

In DeKalb County, if current trends continue, students who choose to return to a physical classroom could be back on campus on a limited basis by early November, according to the district’s plan.

When Superintendent Cheryl Watson-Harris released her reopening plan in September, she said the transition toward an in-person learning option would not begin until DeKalb County’s 14-day average for COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents dropped below 100 for a sustained period of time.

About a week ago, the figure dipped below 100 for the first time. It has remained in the 90s every day since.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Public Schools' revised reopening plan expands in-person learning options and could return students to classrooms by the end of the month.

The reopening plans are contingent on public health data.

The Atlanta district initially proposed that students in pre-kindergarten through second grade could choose to return to classrooms twice a week. Certain special education students could opt for in-person classes four days a week.

The revised plan expands the in-person option to allow students up to fifth grade to return to school buildings four days a week, starting Oct. 26. Wednesdays would be reserved for at-home independent work, providing time for midweek cleaning and for teachers to complete training.

The district also announced that middle school and high school students would be given the option of returning to in-person classes four days a week, starting Nov. 16.

AJC staff writers J. Scott Trubey, Alexis Stevens, Vanessa McCray, Tyler Estep and John Perry contributed to this article.

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