Georgia back in coronavirus red zone in latest White House report

(From left to right) Jacqueline Jones, LPN, Sasha Stewart, RN, and Jesslyn Lewis, RN, secure COVID-19 tests outside the Glynn County Health Department in Brunswick. Ryon Horne/RHORNE@AJC.COM
(From left to right) Jacqueline Jones, LPN, Sasha Stewart, RN, and Jesslyn Lewis, RN, secure COVID-19 tests outside the Glynn County Health Department in Brunswick. Ryon Horne/RHORNE@AJC.COM

Credit: rhorne@ajc.com

Credit: rhorne@ajc.com

Task force urges mask-wearing, caution indoors and around family to limit spread.

Georgia has reentered the coronavirus red zone.

Citing an increase in cases, President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force moved the state back into the most severe category for spread of the virus for the first time since mid-September. The report warned of asymptomatic spread, particularly in social gatherings, as cool weather pushes people indoors and friends and families plan holiday events.

Forty-two states now sit in the COVID-19 red zone for cases as the virus surges to new daily case highs and hospitalizations and deaths climb across the nation.

Georgia ranked 40th in the nation for new cases per 100,000 people and 30th for test positivity.

“Georgia must expand the mitigation efforts statewide as test positivity and cases are increasing,” the White House Coronavirus Task Force report, dated Sunday, said.

The seven-day rolling average of new confirmed cases in Georgia has climbed about 45% since bottoming out Oct. 2, and current hospitalizations have started to climb after weeks of improvement, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data shows.

For now, confirmed cases in Georgia remain well below the summer surge that strained the state’s health care infrastructure and led to thousands of deaths. Georgia’s current rate of spread also is not as severe as the outbreaks seen in the Upper Midwest, Northwest or among Georgia’s border states.

But public health experts fear Georgia might not be far behind.

Georgia started this latest surge in confirmed cases at nearly double the level that preceded the summer wave. And health experts have said the cooler months ahead could be bleak in Georgia if residents do not heed warnings to wear masks, practice social distancing, wash hands, get a flu shot and avoid gatherings, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces.

On Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) reported 2,012 net new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, as determined by molecular PCR tests, and 2,506 antigen test positives. Positives from rapid antigen tests are considered probable cases of COVID-19.

Nancy Nydam, a DPH spokeswoman, said about 1,000 of the antigen cases reported Tuesday date from mid-October and were the result of a dump by one large urgent care company. Daily reporting of antigen positives, which started last week, has been “bumpy,” Nydam said, as the state brings providers who use rapid antigen tests into its electronic reporting system.

“It will get better as the weeks go on and as we work with facilities,” Nydam said, adding that some of Tuesday’s figure represents “some catchup from the weekend.”

To date, DPH has reported 376,054 confirmed cases of the virus, 35,598 antigen positives and 8,264 confirmed deaths. Another 466 “probable” deaths have been linked to COVID-19.

‘Wear a mask’

This week, President-elect Joe Biden made an emphatic case for Americans to wear masks to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

“We could save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democratic or Republican lives, American lives,” Biden said. “Please, I implore you, wear a mask.”

Biden’s remarks from his presidential transition headquarters in Delaware were a stark contrast to those of President Donald Trump, who has largely refused to wear masks in public, often pans face coverings and mocked Biden and his team for making a point to wear them during the campaign.

Trump’s administration often fails to follow public health guidelines at the White House and events, and just this week Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson tested positive for the virus, along with several others who attended White House events the week before.

In its report, the White House task force now calls for “proactive testing” or screening of people aged 18 to 40 in red and orange counties. Sixty-seven of Georgia’s 159 counties — about two out of five — fall into those two categories, including Bartow, Clayton, Douglas, Carroll, Haralson, Paulding and Rockdale counties in metro Atlanta.

“We need to protect those we are thankful for in our families and communities,” the task force report said. “Ensure indoor masking around vulnerable family members during any gatherings due to the significant amount of virus circulating and the high rate of asymptomatic and undiagnosed infections among family and community members.”

The report also warned of low supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) at hospitals.

Two weeks ago, more than 80% of hospitals reported having three or fewer days' worth of PPE, and about 90% reported three or fewer days' supply of gloves, N95 masks and gowns last week.

In the latest report, about half of Georgia’s hospitals reported having PPE stockpiles of three or fewer days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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