The Georgia Department of Public Health will soon stop publishing key data on coronavirus cases every week, after the federal government on Thursday declared the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
In a statement late Thursday night, the Georgia Department of Public Health officials said that the state won’t be required to post as much data and will dramatically pull back on its reports, from once a week to once a month. DPH had posted virus and vaccine information daily until it reduced the reports to once weekly in early 2022.
“Now that we have safe and effective vaccines, ample testing infrastructure and most people have some level of immunity due to vaccination or infection, COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency,” DPH officials said in a statement. “[But] the end of the [public health emergency] does not mean that COVID-19 is over.”
At midnight Thursday, the federal government officially ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic. With the end of the emergency, some health reports related to COVID illnesses will no longer be required.
Deaths, hospitalizations, and cases linked to the virus have plummeted since the last surge in cases in January. Last week in Georgia, there were 23 COVID-19 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — compared to 975 during the pandemic’s peak week of January 2021.
Among the changes to data the state will provide to the public:
- DPH will update its public dashboard, the DPH Weekly COVID-19 Status Report, every Wednesday for several more weeks and then transition to publishing once a month, probably after July 1.
- The number of COVID-19 cases will continue to be reported by labs to DPH and in turn to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The percentage of positive COVID-19 tests will no longer be published because the requirement for labs to report the number of negative tests is being dropped.
This shift comes as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is changing the way it presents COVID-19 data. For more than a year, CDC has been moving away from case counts and testing results, partly because of the rise in home tests that aren’t reported. The agency will no longer track community levels of COVID.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, numerous independent experts questioned Georgia’s accounting of coronavirus cases, tests, deaths and vaccinations. Observers noted sloppiness in case counts, death counts and other measures that are fundamental to tracking a disease outbreak. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported a data processing issue caused DPH to under-report daily COVID-19 tests and positive results in at least one prominent location on its website for nearly two years.
But DPH said that the end of the public health emergency will have “minimal impact” on the public. Coronavirus cases have dropped dramatically, DPH said, but emphasized that Georgians still must be vigilant — by staying up to date on their vaccinations, and getting tested if they’ve been potentially exposed to the virus.
Until now, the government has mandated free COVID testing and treatment for virtually anyone, but that practice is going to change. The Georgia Department of Public Health said that it would continue to provide free test kits at locations throughout the state, as long as its own supplies remain. Vaccines will still be available at no cost to the public at health departments, and medications to prevent severe COVID-19, such as Paxlovid, will remain available at no cost while supplies last from the federal government.