Kemp says ‘Georgians have stepped up to the plate’ to fight coronavirus

Gov. Brian Kemp wears a '2020 Census' branded face mask after encouraging Georgians to fill out the 2020 Census during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Gov. Brian Kemp wears a '2020 Census' branded face mask after encouraging Georgians to fill out the 2020 Census during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in downtown Atlanta, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

But health officials fear possible ‘twin-demic’ with flu season approaching.

Many Georgians have done their part to help fight the coronavirus, Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday.

But with the flu season approaching, it’s not the time to back off safety measures to help fight the virus, the governor said at a COVID-19 media briefing.

“Georgians have stepped up to the plate,” Kemp said. “The key is for us to keep doing this. We cannot take our foot off the gas.”

[Complete coverage of the coronavirus in Georgia]

Since mid-July, Georgia has reported declining cases in 10 out of the past 11 weeks, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data shows.

The current seven-day rolling average of new cases of 1,159 is down about 70% from the July peak, an AJC analysis of state data found. Hospitalizations also are down from the peak by about 60%.

But while Georgia has improved in both metrics since the peak, Georgia’s seven-day rolling average of new cases remains about double what it was at the low point at the end of May, a month after Kemp relaxed shelter-in-place orders. The rolling average of people currently hospitalized is about 60% higher than the bottom in early June.

The rate of new coronavirus deaths reported during the seven days that ended Friday also remains higher than the national average, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s latest report from Sunday.

Dr. Harry J. Heiman, a clinical associate professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health, said Georgia appears to have settled into an elevated plateau in cases that’s double the lows Georgia saw at the end of May.

“We’ve plateaued at a much higher level than what is desirable,” Heiman said in an interview earlier this week.

Health officials are concerned about the ongoing pandemic combined with the approaching flu season, according to Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health.

COVID-19 and influenza feature similar symptoms, though COVID-19 is more dangerous and more contagious, health experts say.

“Never has it been more important to get a flu shot,” Dr. Toomey said. “We’re trying to prevent twin-demics of COVID plus influenza.”

Georgia in the orange zone

President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force reported on Sunday that Georgia remains in the orange zone for new cases for the second consecutive week.

Orange is the second-most severe zone for new cases in the task force’s four-color coded ranges. Georgia remains in the third, or the yellow zone, for test positivity.

But both are improvements from the summer.

Most of the major metro areas including Atlanta and Columbus are in the yellow zone for new cases. Savannah and Augusta are in the orange zone, while Rome, Tifton and Toccoa are among eight small metro areas in the red zone.

Georgia reported a rate of new cases of 77 per 100,000 people for the seven days that ended on Friday, compared to 90 per 100,000 people nationwide. Georgia ranked 28th in new cases after previously ranking as high as worst in the nation in August.

“Georgia has made progress," the White House Coronavirus Task Force report said. "Mitigation efforts must continue to include mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds.”

At his press conference, Kemp sought to highlight improvements at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, where residents are most vulnerable to the virus.

On Sept. 15, 172 nursing homes in Georgia were in red zone counties, Kemp said. As of Wednesday morning, that number had declined to 49 facilities.

The number of nursing homes in green zone counties meanwhile has increased to 69 in that time, up from 19, the governor said.

An AJC analysis of Department of Community Health data on long-term care homes shows that new coronavirus cases inside facilities have been trending down since July and August.

Kemp also said his administration recently announced $78 million in new reimbursement funds for long-term care centers to boost testing.

“If we all commit to doing the right thing, I am confident we will continue moving in the right direction in the fight against COVID 19,” Kemp said.

The latest White House report continues to focus on increasing testing, tackling outbreaks in college towns and reducing spread within long-term care facilities, which can be particularly deadly.

Georgia reported 129,026 tests in the week ended on Saturday, down 6% compared to the week earlier and down about 36% from the weekly peak in July. But test positivity also hit its lowest weekly rate (7.4%) since June. By Wednesday, the rolling average positivity rate was down to 6%.

“Are we in a better place than we were two months ago? Absolutely, but we are still not where we need to be,” Heiman said. “We are at risk for significant problems in the coming months based on what’s going on seasonally and weather-wise and with flu season and with schools and in-person instruction.”

AJC data reporter John Perry contributed to this article.

In Other News