White House task force warns of continued COVID-19 spread in Georgia

200716-Atlanta-Workers at a CORE testing site at Antioch Baptist Church North in Northwest Atlanta collect covid-19 tests from a line of cars that disappears and wraps around the block Thursday afternoon July 16, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
200716-Atlanta-Workers at a CORE testing site at Antioch Baptist Church North in Northwest Atlanta collect covid-19 tests from a line of cars that disappears and wraps around the block Thursday afternoon July 16, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

In its latest report, President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force warned Georgia officials of continued spread of the coronavirus — particularly from private social gatherings — and said a decrease in testing makes it “difficult to interpret” the status of Georgia’s epidemic.

“Unrelenting and significant community spread is initiated by social gatherings among friends and family,” the most recent White House Coronavirus Task Force report said. “People must remember that seemingly uninfected family members and friends may be infected but asymptomatic. Exposure to asymptomatic cases can easily lead to spread as people unmask in private gatherings.”

The task force recommended the state create “specific messaging” to the public about spread from private gatherings, and “recruit hospital personnel to raise the alert through the media, including social media, by noting … the percent of most recent hospital admissions who were infected at gatherings with family and friends.”

It’s unclear if the state Department of Public Health (DPH) has such data.

The report, dated Sunday, also warned of public gatherings without masks, including in bars. But the report made no explicit recommendation to cap group sizes or alter business practices.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., disclosed he was infected with the virus, prompting Gov. Brian Kemp to self-quarantine because the two Republican politicians were together at an indoor rally.

Georgia remains in the orange zone or the second most severe category for new confirmed case growth, and just slightly under the red zone. Georgia reported 99 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in the seven days that ended Friday. Case counts of 101 or more per 100,000 land a state in the red zone.

The figures were based on molecular PCR tests and did not include probable cases as determined by rapid antigen tests, which Georgia only this week started reporting on its main website daily.

Georgia has reported a decline in molecular PCR testing in the past two weeks, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of state data show, and positivity has increased slightly during that time.

Health officials have sounded the alarm that cases are likely to rise amid cooler weather and social gatherings during the holiday season.

“What we know is that indoor gatherings pose more risk than outdoor gatherings, as do gatherings with more people than those with fewer people,” said Nancy Nydam, a DPH spokeswoman. “But if people are not wearing masks or social distancing or washing their hands frequently, their risk of getting sick or spreading COVID-19 to others increases regardless.”

Georgia ranked 39th in the nation in new cases and 26th highest in test positivity last week, the White House report said, as the epidemic has expanded across most of the country.

On Wednesday, the state reported 1,863 net new confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 953 new antigen positive cases, which are considered probable cases of the virus. The state also reported 43 net new confirmed deaths.

To date, 366,452 confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in Georgia, along with 30,829 antigen positive cases. DPH reports 8,072 deaths attributed to the coronavirus, plus an additional 450 probable COVID-19 deaths.

For now, cases in Georgia remain well below the summer surge that strained the state’s health care infrastructure and led to thousands of deaths. Georgia’s current rate of spread also is not as severe as the outbreaks seen in the West, Upper Midwest and Northwest, or in Georgia’s neighboring states.

Still, the White House task force said “Georgia must expand mitigation in the counties with rising cases and hospitalizations.” This includes social distancing, hand washing, mask use and getting a flu shot.

In another troubling sign, about nine out of 10 hospitals reported having three days' or fewer worth of N95 masks, surgical gowns and gloves, the report said.

In Other News