COVID-19 deaths spike in Georgia, White House reports

Grady ambulance crew prepare to begin their day on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. The third wave of coronavirus infections has put Georgia's health care systems under strain. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Grady ambulance crew prepare to begin their day on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. The third wave of coronavirus infections has put Georgia's health care systems under strain. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Final report of Trump administration urges statewide mandate for mask wearing to combat the virus’ spread. ‘Mask mandates work,’ White House says.

Georgia ranked 6th worst in the nation for the rate of new coronavirus infections last week and the state vaulted up the rankings in the rate of new fatalities amid a surging death toll from the third wave of the pandemic, according to a new federal report.

Georgia ranked 14th in the rate of new COVID-19 deaths last week, up from 43rd a week earlier in the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report, the final one under the Trump administration.

ExploreThe latest news on the coronavirus vaccines

Georgia reported 821 deaths for the seven days that ended on Friday, the period analyzed by the White House report, more than double the number of deaths reported in the prior seven days.

What the data means

The seven-day rolling average of newly reported confirmed deaths on Wednesday hit a new high of 119. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) reported 146 net new confirmed deaths and another 50 deemed probable for COVID-19.

The latest White House report, dated Sunday and obtained Wednesday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, continued the task force’s dire warnings for Georgia and other states to step up mitigation.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

“Overall, this fall and winter surge is more aggressive, with more rapid community spread that will need to be continuously met with aggressive and escalating mitigation,” the report said. “We should not be reassured that we don’t yet have significant spread from imported, more transmissible variants as early evidence may underestimate the current spread.”

Georgia reported its first confirmed case of the U.K strain earlier this month. The task force warned the U.S. is likely to see its own highly transmissible strain.

Researchers at Ohio State University reported this month finding a unique American strain with characteristics to the U.K. variety that has overloaded hospitals and forced a third national lockdown in England.

ExploreHow hospitals are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic

The seven-day rolling average of confirmed and suspected cases in Georgia has declined 20% from their peak on Jan. 11, though test positivity remains in the double-digits, indicating the state isn’t testing enough. All but eight of Georgia’s 159 counties remain in the red zone for new infections.

“Georgia has seen some stability in new cases and a slight decrease in test positivity and new COVID hospital admissions,” the report said. “However, there is no evidence of containment of this resurgence.”

On Wednesday, DPH reported 8,205 net new confirmed and suspected cases of COVID-19.

More than 5,400 people in Georgia are currently hospitalized statewide, down slightly from the all-time high of more than 5,700. But hospital capacity — particularly intensive care capacity — remains severely constrained.

Fed report at odds with state

The White House said Georgia ranked ninth in the rate of new hospital admissions last week.

The final Trump White House Coronavirus Task Force report included some parting advice for states, some of it pointedly at odds with the approach Gov. Brian Kemp has taken in Georgia.

“Mask mandates work,” the report said. Kemp has rejected calls to enact a statewide face covering mandate, though he has urged the use of masks.

“During increased community spread, any indoor space where masks cannot be continuously worn must be substantially curtailed or closed,” the report said. “This includes bars, indoor dining, gyms, etc.”

Kemp’s executive orders include some operating limits on bars, restaurants and gyms and other indoor businesses, but his orders have remained largely unchanged since the summer.

The White House report also reiterated prior warnings about the risk of indoor gatherings with family members and friends.

In November, then-President-elect Joe Biden appointed his own coronavirus advisory board, which includes former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

In Other News