COVID-19 infections continue rising in Georgia: Hospitalizations up 30%

Experts say precautions are still important; shoppers find stores are out of home test kits or running low.

For the third week in a row, Georgia hospitals have reported a rise in COVID-19 numbers — a 30% jump for hospitalizations in the week ending August 5, the latest data available.

The overall numbers of known infections and hospitalizations remain low, and COVID deaths, which have tended to average about one or two a day, are on the decrease, according to state data. But any increase is no help to the battered hospital system.

“I hope that we haven’t forgotten all of the lessons learned and the knowledge and experience over the past few years,” said Dr. James “Eddie” Black, director of emergency services for Phoebe Putney Health System in southwest Georgia, the site of the state’s first massive pandemic surge.

In what he described as “a rarity,” Black on Tuesday admitted a COVID patient to the intensive care unit.

“I think that most people don’t want to see it again, and don’t want to talk about it,” Black said. “But it’s part of the conversation.”

Phoebe’s numbers echo the state’s: low, generally stable numbers of COVID patients, with a recent slight uptick.

The available numbers don’t tell the true COVID story. Like the general population, the public health system has scaled back its COVID vigilance. There is less data since the end of the federal public health emergency for the pandemic. States don’t have access to the hospital data they used to.

When people test at home, that data doesn’t get reported. Testing is no longer free nationwide and some pharmacies report test kits are out of stock.

The system now relies on private enterprise to provide COVID-19 test kits to customers at stores. If there’s little demand, companies don’t stock up, and are unprepared.

This week, shoppers looking for COVID tests have found that many stores, including CVS and Walgreens, are sold out or running low. “To be honest we don’t have any. We are sold out, we’re waiting for some to get in,” one CVS worker in Decatur told the AJC Wednesday.

Walgreens in a statement acknowledged a spike in demand and what it called temporary and isolated shortages. It advised looking on and said it was working to meet demand.

A CVS spokeswoman insisted that the chain has “ample supply to meet our customers’ and patients’ COVID-19 testing needs both in-store, in-clinic and at” However, a reporter who checked to find stores with tests found that of five suggested nearby with tests available for pickup, three stores were actually sold out, according to store employees. One was rationing at two kits per customer, and the fifth said tests were available but “they are selling.” All the employees said they were expecting re-supply within a day or two.

The Georgia Department of Public Health advertises locations for free testing, but they have limited hours.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health, Nancy Nydam, pointed out that while numbers of infections were in general picking up, overall they were still very low compared to summer COVID increases in previous years. But DPH still advises people to take precautions.

“The increases we’re seeing could be a combination of a new COVID variant, people becoming too complacent about prevention measures, more summer travel and people at large gatherings, and some waning of immunity from vaccination or prior infection,” Nydam said.

“The public health emergency has ended, but that does not mean COVID is gone.”


  • If you have symptoms like a cough, a sinus infection or sneezing, you may or may not have COVID, but whatever you have you don’t want to spread it. So take action: Test and isolate so as not to infect others.

About masks

The Georgia DPH recommends “good respiratory hygiene.” Basically, not coughing in people’s faces.

According to the CDC, masks are still a good tool for protecting those around you from your breath. Especially at certain times: indoors, in crowds, in rooms with little ventilation. That’s helpful not only for COVID, but for other illnesses circulating like seasonal flu and RSV.

Cloth masks are insufficient at keeping out germs. Regular hospital masks are better. But the best masks commonly available for keeping out germs are N-95s or KN-95s. Respiratory infections of many kinds plummeted during the pandemic, probably because so many people were masking.

  • Testing

COVID variants change, and different brands of tests have different quality. But many existing at-home test brands are still good at detecting COVID-19. The American Medical Association recently touted a new test by the company Lucira (advertised at $35 online) that can test for both seasonal flu and COVID. According to Andrea Garcia, a vice president at the AMA, a negative test result from that test was 100% accurate, and a positive test result was 88% likely to be accurate. (With some other tests, a positive test result is more likely to be accurate. With a negative result, it may be that the test didn’t pick up an existing infection.)

Personal test kits may be expired, so check the date.

  • Where to test

At-home tests are in high demand and can be found, though they are no longer federally subsidized to all customers. They can also be purchased online for $10-$35, mostly averaging $25.

The Georgia DPH offers free in-person testing locations across the state. However, check the hours as they are often limited.

  • Vaccinate

Being vaccinated remains an important tool to protect against COVID infection and to have milder symptoms if infected. Vaccination wanes over time. The most recent vaccine produced was the “bi-valent” one. It was not engineered to protect against the newest variants, XBB.1.5 and “eris.”

However, according to the CDC, even with the newer eris or EG.5 variant, “currently available treatments and vaccines are expected to continue to be effective against this variant.”

A new vaccine specifically against XBB.1.5 is expected in late September or early October.

A refresher on how COVID-19 tests work:

When should you test? If you have symptoms, test immediately. If you do not have symptoms but have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before taking a test.

As explained by the Food and Drug Administration, there are two types of tests:

  • PCR tests are the “gold standard” test done by a laboratory and are more likely to detect the virus than antigen or rapid tests. PCR test samples are usually be taken by a healthcare provider and sent to a lab. Results may take up to 3 days.
  • Antigen tests are rapid tests that can be done at home and produce results in 15-30 minutes.
  • Positive antigen results are very accurate and reliable. However antigen tests are less likely to detect the virus than PCR tests —especially early in an infection or in people who do not have symptoms. For that reason, the FDA recommends people who get negative results with an at-home test use multiple tests over a certain time period, such as 2-3 days.
  • If your at-home antigen tests gives a positive result, it means you most likely have the virus and should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance to stay home, isolate from others, and seek follow-up care with a health care provider.
  • If your test gives a negative result, test again 48 hours after the first negative test, for a total of at least two tests. If you get a negative result on the second test and you are still concerned that you could have COVID, take a third test 48 hours later or consider getting a PCR lab test from a health provider.

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