Georgia surpasses 10,000 coronavirus deaths

Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville is dealing with their third surge of Covid cases Thursday, Dec 3, 2020.  A Covid patient is transported by ambulance from the main hospital after tests by Jamerson Kerby back to the Mobile Medical Unit created to keep Covid patients apart from the main facility on campus.  The hospital system has built multiple spaces to keep Covid patients away from the main hospital, however, more than 100 patients are still in standard hospital beds.  The day after Thanksgiving was a record for the hospital in taking Covid patients. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

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Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville is dealing with their third surge of Covid cases Thursday, Dec 3, 2020. A Covid patient is transported by ambulance from the main hospital after tests by Jamerson Kerby back to the Mobile Medical Unit created to keep Covid patients apart from the main facility on campus. The hospital system has built multiple spaces to keep Covid patients away from the main hospital, however, more than 100 patients are still in standard hospital beds. The day after Thanksgiving was a record for the hospital in taking Covid patients. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

Tally includes confirmed and probable cases reported to state.

Ten thousand thirty-one deaths.

That’s the combined number, as of Friday, of Georgians confirmed to have died of the coronavirus and those whose deaths are suspected to have been caused by COVID-19, as reported to the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH). Fathers and sons. Mothers and daughters. Brothers and sisters. Friends. Neighbors.

A disease unknown last December has now likely killed more Georgians this year than any other cause except heart disease and cancer. Georgia has 159 counties and only one — Taliaferro — a rural county east of metro Atlanta, has not reported a COVID-19 death.

Stegeman Coliseum at the University of Georgia seats 10,523. Georgia’s confirmed and suspected COVID-19 dead could fill nearly every chair.

ExploreComplete coverage of COVID-19 in Georgia

The five-figure death milestone tragically will only grow. New daily infections from the virus have grown for more than two months in Georgia, and the rolling average is greater than the peak of the summer surge, which led to thousands of deaths.

The number of people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, meanwhile, is at its highest point since August and climbing.

“I’m worried about what we’re going to see over the next few months,” said Bob Bednarczyk, assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “Will we have enough hospital beds? Will we have enough nurses and staff that we need?”

ExploreThe latest news on the coronavirus vaccines

The head of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week the U.S. faces a 9/11-like death toll of 3,000 per day or more for the next 60 to 90 days.

Deaths from COVID-19 disproportionately affect African Americans in Georgia by rate of death. But deaths have been growing fastest since summer among whites as the virus has battered suburban and rural communities.

A year of ‘unimaginable hardship’

This week, the White House Coronavirus Task Force again urged states, including Georgia, to increase testing and reduce capacity or close public and private places where masking is impossible, such as restaurants and bars.

Gov. Brian Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state’s commissioner of public health, urged Georgians this week to double down on face coverings, maintaining social distance, washing hands and getting a flu shot. But Kemp did not announce any new restrictions on gatherings or businesses, stressing personal responsibility.

“This year has brought unimaginable hardship, but it is my belief that we have lost too many loved ones, too many friends and neighbors to give into this virus,” Kemp said. “…We must all do our part so that the sacrifices that everyone has made will not be done in vain.”

On Friday, DPH reported 52 net new confirmed deaths and four “probable” COVID-19 deaths.

So far, DPH has reported 9,175 deaths confirmed to be attributed to COVID-19 and 856 deemed as probable COVID-19 deaths. Georgia may surpass 10,000 confirmed deaths this month.

Confirmed deaths generally are ones in which the deceased had an infection confirmed by the gold standard molecular PCR test. Probable deaths include cases detected by antigen tests or the person had an illness suspected to be COVID-19 but not confirmed by a lab test. The state started reporting daily antigen positives and probable deaths last month.

An AJC analysis of data from the COVID Tracking Project through Thursday showed Georgia, the eighth-most populous state, would rank 16th in death rate and 10th in total combined COVID deaths.

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12/03/2020 — Carrollton, Georgia — Tanner Health System Hospital nurse Nicole Swanger prepares a lunch tray for a COVID-19 patient on the COVID-19 isolation floor at Tanner Health System Hospital in Carrollton Thursday, December 3, 2020. To try and curb staff to the exposure of COVID-19, nurses provide patients on the floor with their meals instead of the usual food service worker. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

12/03/2020 —  Carrollton, Georgia —  Tanner Health System Hospital nurse Nicole Swanger prepares a lunch tray for a COVID-19 patient on the COVID-19 isolation floor at Tanner Health System Hospital in Carrollton Thursday, December 3, 2020. To try and curb staff to the exposure of COVID-19, nurses provide patients on the floor with their meals instead of the usual food service worker. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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12/03/2020 — Carrollton, Georgia — Tanner Health System Hospital nurse Nicole Swanger prepares a lunch tray for a COVID-19 patient on the COVID-19 isolation floor at Tanner Health System Hospital in Carrollton Thursday, December 3, 2020. To try and curb staff to the exposure of COVID-19, nurses provide patients on the floor with their meals instead of the usual food service worker. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Highest death rates in rural Georgia

The pain inflicted by COVID-19 has been felt most acutely among the poor, communities of color and the elderly. Each of these communities is more likely to suffer from pre-existing conditions that worsen bouts of the disease.

Black residents make up about one-third of Georgia’s population, but account for about 39% of the state’s confirmed coronavirus deaths, according DPH data. DPH has yet to release demographic data for deaths deemed probable for COVID-19.

Though people under 50 make up about two-thirds of confirmed coronavirus cases, people older than 50 make up more than nine out of 10 deaths, state data show.

Seven of Georgia’s confirmed COVID-19 dead, to date, have been children, the youngest age 1.

Since Georgia reported its 5,000th death in late August, whites have made up about two-thirds of the confirmed COVID-19 dead, reflecting the virus’ reach into suburban and rural parts of the state.

Though the state’s most populous counties like Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb have reported the most deaths, on a per capita basis, poor and rural counties like Hancock, Randolph, Terrell and Early have reported some of the highest rates of death in the nation.

Nursing home outbreaks claim lives

State data show 3,008 of the dead — or roughly 30% — were residents of nursing homes and other long-term care centers. That’s likely an undercount of all the COVID-19 deaths in long-term care, because it doesn’t include deaths in personal care homes with fewer than 25 beds.

Facilities still struggle to contain outbreaks, despite strict social distancing requirements and limits on family visits in place since March. Care facilities also have better testing capacity and more personal protective equipment now than when the pandemic started.

Brighton Gardens of Buckhead, an assisted living center that is part of the Sunrise Senior Living chain, reported Thursday that it had 39 COVID-positive residents with six deaths. That was up from a report of 15 cases and no deaths the day before.

Patti Gouvas said her 92-year-old mother had been a resident at Brighton Gardens since July, and Gouvas said she had selected the home because it had been largely free of coronavirus.

But her mother is among those who tested positive in the recent outbreak and is now hospitalized. Gouvas said Friday she was told her mom is dying from COVID-19.

“I made the biggest mistake of my life taking her there and not finding an alternative,” Gouvas said.

Sunrise said the facility is working with public health officials and maintaining infection control measures at the home, including serving meals in residents’ rooms, and running checks on residents and staff.

“We are all committed to fighting this virus and promoting the health and safety of our community,” said Michelle Minor, a Sunrise vice president, in a statement to the AJC.

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12/03/2020 — Carrollton, Georgia — A Tanner Health System Hospital nurse gathers medicine for patients in a medicine room on the COVID-19 isolation floor at Tanner Health System Hospital in Carrollton Thursday, December 3, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

12/03/2020 —  Carrollton, Georgia —  A Tanner Health System Hospital nurse gathers medicine for patients in a medicine room on the COVID-19 isolation floor at Tanner Health System Hospital in Carrollton Thursday, December 3, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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12/03/2020 — Carrollton, Georgia — A Tanner Health System Hospital nurse gathers medicine for patients in a medicine room on the COVID-19 isolation floor at Tanner Health System Hospital in Carrollton Thursday, December 3, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

‘We lost a great councilman’

A school nurse in Paulding County and her husband of a half-century died hours apart on Thanksgiving. A former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court passed the same day.

Herman Cain, the radio host, corporate executive and former Republican presidential candidate, is the most famous. Others were less well known, but left an imprint on their families, friends and communities.

Allen Transou, 53, retired from the Army and worked at Fort Gordon, near Augusta, in cyber security. He was a pastor and mentor to children.

Transou entered the hospital on Veterans Day and died Nov. 21.

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Allen Transou, a 53-year-old Army veteran and Grovetown city councilmember, died of coronavirus Nov. 21.

Credit: Special

Allen Transou, a 53-year-old Army veteran and Grovetown city councilmember, died of coronavirus Nov. 21.

Credit: Special

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Allen Transou, a 53-year-old Army veteran and Grovetown city councilmember, died of coronavirus Nov. 21.

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Grovetown Mayor Gary Jones said Transou supported his campaign for mayor, which centered on rooting out corruption in the small suburb of Augusta. Transou then ran for and won a city council seat.

Transou steered a year-long committee to help overhaul the city’s zoning.

Few things raise the hackles of neighbors like zoning matters. But Jones said Transou earned the trust of residents because he listened.

“Not only have we lost a good citizen, we lost a great councilman,” Jones said.

Data specialist John Perry contributed to this report.