Despite weeks of social distancing to contain the coronavirus, the outbreak continues to worsen in many parts of Georgia.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report to the White House said that, in much of Georgia, the number of confirmed cases of the virus is still increasing. A new coronavirus hot spot has emerged in northeast Georgia, with the number of cases in the Gainesville area jumping exponentially each week during April.
Meanwhile, many businesses are taking a slow and cautious approach to reopening; jobless claims continue to soar; and Gov. Brian Kemp is now recommending all Georgians get tested for COVID-19.
Here’s a look at major developments in the state over the past week related to the coronavirus.
Kemp says all Georgians should get tested
Kemp has urged all Georgians to schedule appointments for coronavirus screening, regardless of whether they have symptoms. The state continues to expand testing for the disease, even as the rapid growth has exposed new strains.
Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the head of the state Department of Public Health, emphasized that the widespread testing is “particularly important” as Georgia beefs up its contact tracing program to track the disease’s spread.
Area labs, however, are struggling to keep up with record numbers of tests.
Test results have been delayed for more than 4,000 people.
The pandemic’s toll
Kemp said people in longterm care facilities made up more than half of the deaths linked to the disease. About two-thirds of the state’s deaths involve patients with underlying health conditions or the “medically fragile.”
Georgia health officials also expressed concerns about an outbreak of the coronavirus in northeast Georgia around Gainesville.
Nearly four dozen patients have died in the area’s main hospital system, and hundreds who work in the poultry industry have been sickened by the disease.
A new mobile hospital and dozens of health care workers have been deployed to the region, and Insurance Commissioner John King helped establish a community task force to warn Spanish-speaking workers in the poultry industry about the virus.
The fight far from over
A federal report, presented to the White House by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates deaths from the virus will reach 3,000 a day nationwide by June. That is significantly higher than the current daily average of about 1,750 and foretells an ultimate death toll far exceeding 100,000.
In Georgia, the CDC said, metro Atlanta and other populous regions of the state are where the “burden continues to grow.” Meanwhile, several counties, many of them rural and scantily populated, showed significant declines in infection rates.
On Tuesday, a new model by researchers at the University of Washington projected as many as 4,913 COVID-19 deaths in Georgia by early August. The projection shows deaths continuing to increase at a steady pace well into July.
Jobless claims in Georgia outpace nation
Georgia’s Department of Labor has processed jobless claims for nearly one in three workers since mid-March, a far-higher rate than the U.S. average.
The state agency said Thursday it processed 228,352 claims for benefits the week ending May 2, bringing the total to 1.6 million over the past seven weeks, or 31% of Georgia’s workforce.
By comparison, 33.5 million Americans filed claims over the same time, representing just 21% of the nation’s workforce.
Officials didn’t know why the state and national numbers are so far apart. Economists have several theories for the divergence, but no single explanation.
It could be partly a timing issue. Georgia might be processing claims more quickly than other states, even though many unemployed here are still waiting for benefits to arrive while the state agency struggles to keep up with claims.
Some businesses open
While many stores and restaurants remain closed, some have turned back on their lights. Many malls have reopened, as have hair salons. Some restaurants are continuing to offer delivery and pickup only.
Meanwhile, many corporate offices in metro Atlanta remain eerily quiet.
Many of the biggest companies are in no rush to see their desks filled with staffers who have been working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Coca-Cola Company, UPS, Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Southern Company, AGCO and other local employers say they have no set timeline for teleworkers to return. Some other workers might not be sitting inside offices again until the fall or even next year.
That’s a testament to the success of remote working. But it’s also an acknowledgement of continued public health concerns, the complexity of making offices safe, and child care challenges employees face with closed schools, camps and day care centers.
Staff writers Greg Bluestein, Alan Judd, Michael E. Kanell, Matt Kempner and Bill Rankin contributed reporting to this article.
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