Georgia’s latest coronavirus news: New cases up but causes unclear

After gradual declines, week to week cases of COVID-19 in Georgia clicked up 26% for the seven days ending Sunday, according to an AJC analysis of public health data.

‘We know that with increased testing the number of positive cases will also increase,’ official says.

After gradual declines, week to week cases of COVID-19 in Georgia clicked up 26% for the seven days ending Sunday, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of public health data.

Whether the increase from nearly 4,170 confirmed cases during the week of May 11 to 5,260 the week of May 18 represents a new wave in the spread of the novel coronavirus remains unclear.

Beginning in late April, Georgia rapidly ramped up the number of tests administered statewide, which means that a jump in detected cases could reflect an improved testing system able to identify a greater proportion of those sickened by the virus. The state currently has 136 sites to collect specimens, and the Georgia National Guard is helping to administer tests in nursing homes, said state Department of Public Health spokeswoman Nancy Nydam.

Uneven reporting of new cases may also be behind the increase. On Saturday, a commercial lab reported some 15,000 tests for the virus to DPH, 900 of which were positive, Nydam said.

“DPH is closely monitoring the numbers and all possible epidemiologic implications of the positive test results, including increased testing across the state, testing in long-term care facilities, workplace testing as businesses reopen, and testing among farm workers,” Nydam told the AJC in a written statement. “We know that with increased testing the number of positive cases will also increase.”

»NEW DASHBOARD: The AJC's redesigned page of real-time charts tracking the virus

Experts also caution against drawing conclusions about virus trends using data for relatively short time periods.

Still, the increase in detected cases are a reason to pay close attention. While the number of people currently hospitalized statewide dropped during the past two weeks, deaths rose from 201 to 221 during that same period. A COVID-19 hot-spot also emerged last week in rural Hancock County. 

It can take a week or more between when a person is infected to when DPH logs a test result, which means that a jump during the week of May 18 would be a reflection of what happened in early or mid May, noted Benjamin Lopman, a professor of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health

“We’ll need to continue to watch the data in the coming weeks, and I am worried we’ll see further increases,” Lopman said in an email.

The rise in confirmed cases places Georgia among 20 states recording increases, as reported Tuesday by Reuters news agency, which analyzed week over week data ending Saturday. They found a statewide increase of about 21%.

South Carolina had the biggest week-by-week increase at 42%. Alabama, Missouri and North Carolina also recorded big jumps. Fifteen states posted 14 days of declining cases, a benchmark set by the White House for easing social distancing requirements, the news agency reported.

Nationally, new cases declined .8% for the week ending May 24, Reuters reported, but that decline was lower than the 8% posted in the previous week.

Infectious disease experts projected that transmission of the virus would increase in Georgia after Gov. Brian Kemp ended his shelter-in-place order for most residents April 30. How much depends on how well Georgians follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to wear masks, avoid groups and wash their hands.

If residents comply, cases will likely tick upwards slowly. If they don’t, states risk a surge in cases, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and other public health experts have said.

Staff writers Emily Merwin DiRico and John Perry contributed to this report.

THE VIRUS IN GEORGIA

As of 7 p.m. Tuesday

CONFIRMED CASES: 43,983

CONFIRMED DEATHS: 1,895

CURRENT HOSPITALIZATIONS: 854

For more, go to ajc.com/cvupdate

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