As COVID-19 cases rapidly multiply in Georgia, government leaders and public health experts are urging residents to wear masks and stay diligent about frequent hand-washing and social distancing to try to slow the spread of the disease.
Savannah became the first city in the state to require the use of masks, implementing a $500 fine for violations. And, while several public health experts are calling for mandatory mask wearing, Gov. Brian Kemp said he believes a mandate is a “bridge too far.”
“Until we have a vaccine, we need society to step up — and our window is closing,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease specialist who is also executive associate dean of Emory University School of Medicine. “We don’t have time to lose.”
Here is a look at major developments during the past week related to the coronavirus.
Savannah makes masks mandatory
Savannah Mayor Van Johnson said he had no choice but to require citizens and visitors to wear masks as the city grapples with a record-setting number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
Violators will be offered a face covering before they are cited and fined $500, Johnson said.
“Frankly, and honestly, I do not believe we have any other choice,” he said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”
Governor’s “Wear a Mask” tour
Kemp went on a two-day, seven-city “Wear a Mask” campaign. The governor said Georgians should wear face coverings even if there isn’t a legal requirement to do so.
“We can disagree on how we go about solving the problem,” Kemp said. “We all agree, especially right now, it’s wise for people to wear a mask, especially when they’re out in a public setting.”
He said the state had been moving in a “very positive” direction, and then people let their guard down.
“Summer hit,” he said. “People were itching to get out after weeks and months of shutdown, not only in our state but across the country. And, quite honestly, people got lackadaisical.”
Several public health experts across the country, including infectious disease experts at Emory University, said widespread mask wearing could be the key to saving lives and making sure businesses can safely remain open.
During an online press conference, del Rio and Dr. Jonathan Lewin, CEO of Emory Healthcare, also said masks could help prevent another painful lock-down.
Experts say the evidence is clear that masks can prevent the spread of COVID- 19. States and countries with mask mandates are seeing a slowdown in the infection rate.
The doctors cited an analysis from Goldman Sachs that says a national mandate for Americans to wear face masks could save almost 5% of gross domestic product.
Credit: Patrick Semansky
Credit: Patrick Semansky
Demand for tests strain system
Amid Georgia’s new surge in coronavirus cases, the increased demand for testing is straining the state’s infrastructure, leading to longer waits in some places and complaints from residents of delayed results.
Officials stress the state has the capacity to accommodate testing for all who want it, a far cry from the early weeks of the pandemic when tests were rationed. Generally, public health officials say, residents can get an appointment within a day or so and results are available within a week.
But a half-dozen patients who spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said they had to wait upward of a week to book appointments in some areas, and patients and doctors told the AJC that lab results sometimes take a week or longer.
Some top hospital officials say they are concerned about demand for testing nationally outpacing capacity as the U.S. reports record numbers of new cases daily. This could overwhelm the labs that process samples, as happened early in the pandemic.
Quest Diagnostics, one of the nation’s largest lab companies, warned this week that demand nationally has reached “unprecedented levels,” slowing results. Labs are working to boost capacity.
Georgia has processed about 16,000 tests per day over the past week, but a Harvard Global Health Institute report said the state might need about four times that amount to mitigate spread and about 15 times that amount to suppress it.
Teen working to make a difference
Aditi Mohan, a rising junior at Chattahoochee High School, is trying to make a difference during the pandemic.
“Health care workers have always inspired me for their dedication to keeping the public safe, and during the pandemic my respect for them increased tenfold for their fortitude and courage,” said Mohan.
After reading that health care workers’ ears become “very irritated” after hours of wearing a mask, the teenager started looking into what could be done. “I found ear savers, which alleviate ear pain by shifting the loops of the mask onto the buttons of the ear savers.”
Mohan crochets ear savers while watching TV. Her ear savers wrap around the back of the head like a headstrap.
She has donated about 500 ear savers to several hospitals and organizations, including Emory University Hospital, Northside Hospital and the Ronald McDonald House.
Mohan is a member of Student Leadership Johns Creek and a Girl Scout ambassador. She partly credits the Girl Scouts with teaching her to be considerate and caring and to try to make the world a better place.
Staff writers Greg Bluestein, J. Scott Trubey and freelancer Shannon Dominy contributed to this article.