Georgia reports daily, weekly records for coronavirus cases

Georgia reported more than 11,000 new cases of the coronavirus from June 21 to Saturday, a new one-week record of confirmed cases that shattered the state’s previous high set only the week before.

The 11,176 new confirmed cases reported last week was up 60% compared to the week of June 14, according to an analysis of data from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). Georgia has set a new single-day record for coronavirus cases in each of the past three days, and topped 2,000 in a day for the first time with Sunday’s report of 2,225 confirmed cases.

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The coronavirus has seen a resurgence in the U.S., particularly across the South and West, as states reopen their economies. Georgia was among the last states to mandate shelter-in-place, and since the end of April has been among the more the aggressive states in loosening restrictions on businesses and residents.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s shelter-in-place order ended for most Georgians on April 30, and the state reported gradually declining cases that month and in the early days of May.

But since that time, Georgia reported week-over-week increases in six out of the past seven weeks, including in each of the past four weeks. Much of the growth is centered in metro Atlanta, but higher case rates occurred across many of Georgia’s 159 counties.

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Confirmed cases generally are a snapshot of the virus from perhaps two weeks ago, because people often do not seek a test until they exhibit symptoms, and it often takes days before results are known.

Though Georgia is testing more people than it did during the early weeks of the pandemic, the sharp rise in cases is outpacing growth in testing.

“We’re seeing increases in cases because we basically opened up and as we opened up, we did not take the necessary precautions to prevent ongoing transmission,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, the executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine at Grady Health System. “This is a pesky virus. It is a tough virus to control.”

To date, Georgia has reported 77,210 confirmed cases. The state reported two deaths attributed to the disease on Sunday, bringing the total of confirmed deaths to 2,778.

Current hospitalizations for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, also have climbed and are at their highest point since early May.

State figures show cases trending younger and adults under 30 are now the largest cohort of infections. Though COVID-19 tends to be milder for young adults than for the elderly, the disease isn't without risk and has led to at least 14 deaths among people under 30.

Del Rio said Grady has noted the same trends of younger cases and higher rates of hospitalizations.

Intensive care usage is not currently as high as it was during the prior peak, del Rio said, though that likely reflects the younger cohort of cases. But the virus is highly contagious, and it can easily spread to more vulnerable people.

In recent interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, several public health experts have urged Kemp to reconsider his reopening strategy. They have also asked the governor to mandate masks, or allow local governments to preempt state orders and enact tougher restrictions.

Texas and Arizona have reported surges in hospitalizations that threaten to swamp their hospitals. Officials in Texas and Florida have closed bars, and some states including Nevada and North Carolina have paused some reopening efforts.

“I do worry that while we are not yet where Texas or Arizona are, we’re right behind them,” del Rio said. “And I’m worried our health care system will be overwhelmed soon.”

Last week, Kemp urged residents to wear masks, practice social distancing and to follow other public health guidance. But he said in a media briefing that mandating masks was a "bridge too far," and that he did not plan new restrictions.

“I think what we have on the books has done very well for us,” Kemp told reporters Friday.

Gov. Brian Kemp tours a coronavirus testing site at Lilburn First Baptist Church in Gwinnett County on Friday, June 26, 2020. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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In a video message last week, Kemp touted steps his administration has taken, including increased hospital surge capacity and new supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators.

The AJC asked Kemp’s office Sunday if the governor’s thinking had changed about implementing new restrictions or taking other steps to curb the virus. Spokeswoman Candice Broce did not answer specific questions, but said the governor works closely with DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey “to make data-driven decisions and ensure the health and well-being of Georgians.”

“If we plan on making any additional announcements, we will do so via press conference or release,” Broce wrote in an email.

Though public health officials have feared a wave of demonstrations that started May 29 might contribute to the outbreak, state officials had not connected any cases to protesting as of late last week. A DPH spokeswoman said “there is no definitive way to link cases to demonstrations,” and DPH does not ask people tested about participation in protests.

But state officials have encouraged demonstrators to get tested.