Death toll rises and cases double here
One week after Grady County recorded its first citizen dying of COVID-19, a second victim has succumbed to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Health officials report that a 59-year-old Grady County man with underlying conditions has died. The number of Grady Countians testing positive for COVID-19 has doubled again this week, jumping from 21 last week to 43.
In April, Grady County has seen a trend of increasing cases, with its first case announced March 31. A week later, the county had 10 cases, then 21 positive cases on April 14 and now 43.
Neighboring counties are struggling with much higher numbers. Mitchell County, as of Tuesday at 7 p.m., had 254 positive cases and 23 deaths, according to Georgia Department of Public Health, indicating that nine percent of the people who live there and get sick are dying.
In Thomas County, 143 residents have tested positive and 14 have died, indicating 9.7 percent of the people who live there and get sick are dying.
Based on the numbers in Grady County, 4.65 percent of us who get sick with COVID-19 are dying.
The entire Southwest Georgia region is a hotspot for the number of COVID-19 cases per capita, according to information from the state D.P.H.
Dougherty County continues to be at the center of the tragedy, recording the most deaths of any county in Georgia at 103, so far. At 1,456 cases, Dougherty does have few positives than Fulton County, which has 2,206 cases as of press-time, but only 83 deaths comparatively. Other metro-Atlanta counties have high numbers, as well, such as Cobb with 60 deaths and 1,230 positive cases; Gwinnett with 44 deaths and 1,238 cases; and DeKalb with 30 deaths and 1,563 cases.
Locally, as of Tuesday this week, Grady General Hospital was treating three patients who have tested positive for COVID-19, Archbold had 36 positive inpatients, and Mitchell County Hospital had seven positive inpatients. Pelham Parkway Nursing Home has 26 positive residents.
Archbold facilities have endured 35 deaths.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Gov. Brian Kemp announced he was allowing the reopening of some businesses, but that move is not met with support from all sides.
Public health experts and local elected officials raised concerns Tuesday over whether Georgia businesses are ready to reopen safely while the coronavirus pandemic continues to chalk up new infections and deaths.
But business leaders welcomed the governor’s announcement Monday that some businesses will be allowed to reopen as soon as the end of this week as a first step toward getting critically needed cash back into their coffers.
Kemp said Monday a host of businesses including gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, barbershops and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen this Friday. Dine-in restaurants and movie theaters can throw open their doors next Monday.
While the number of Georgians who have died from COVID-19 was up to 818 as of 7 p.m. Tuesday and positive cases had risen to 20,166, Kemp said the number of new cases is flattening and emergency room visits are declining. He also announced a plan to increase both testing for the virus and the contact tracing that follows patients who test positive for coronavirus.
“Our citizens are ready for this,” the governor said Monday. “People know what social distancing is.”
“We have the hospital bed capacity and the ramped-up testing and contact tracing,” he said. “I believe we will be able to stay on top of it.”
Georgia mayors criticize Kemp
Mayors across Georgia criticized reopening businesses as premature and potentially dangerous.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said during an interview broadcast by CNN that any progress Georgia has made against the spread of coronavirus stems from the statewide shelter-in-place order Kemp imposed through the end of this month.
“If we’re in a better position, it’s because we’ve been aggressive in asking people to stay home,” she said. “I’m perplexed that we have opened up in this way. I don’t see that it’s based on anything that’s logical.”
Barbershops, beauty parlors and nail salons are exactly the type of settings where it’s impossible to maintain social distancing, said Albany Mayor Bo Dorough, also in an interview with CNN.
Dorough worried Albany, one of the hardest-hit outbreak areas in the country, could see a reversal of gains made recently toward curbing hospital admissions and viral transmissions due to social distancing.
“I understand the governor had a difficult decision to make,” Dorough said. “I do, however, think he made the wrong decision.”
Health experts fear another outbreak
Several public health experts also cast doubt Tuesday on whether the state is ready to reopen social gathering spots like restaurants.
Georgia has not met the federal criteria for seeing a steady decline in cases over a 14-day period before many businesses should start reopening, said Carlos del Rio, who chairs the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.
“Clearly, we’re not there,” del Rio said on Facebook. “We haven’t even met that requirement.”
That opinion was echoed by Grace Bagwell Adams, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of Georgia. She also noted testing still is not comprehensive enough to quickly track where the virus is spreading.
“In all likelihood, we’ll see the cases go back up,” Adams said Tuesday. “That’s just the reality of the way this virus spreads.”
Federal and state officials often cite modeling from the University of Washington that shows Georgia has passed its peak in the number of COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions. But other models compiled at the University of Georgia paint a different picture of the transmission rate, said Andreas Handel, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UGA’s College of Public Health.
That modeling shows COVID-19 cases appear to be flattening, but it’s not clear yet whether they have started to decrease, Handel said Tuesday. Until a steady decline happens, reopening businesses where people tend to congregate too soon could spark another outbreak, potentially worse than what Georgia has seen so far, Handel said.
“In my opinion, it’s too early,” Handel said. “I don’t see the numbers cropping up to where it would be comfortable for reopening.”
While infection rates will likely go up if restrictions are relaxed now, it’s tough to predict how dramatically they might go up due to the small pool of test results the state has so far, said Isaac Fung, an associate professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University’s Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health.
The trade-off, Fung said, is the elderly and people with chronic health issues who are most at risk from the virus have to keep isolated from the rest of the world longer than they would if popular gathering spots were to stay closed.
“The transmission is still going on in the community,” Fung said Tuesday. “Technically, there’s no end in sight until we have a very effective vaccine.”
Business leaders praise reopenings
While public health experts are worried about reopening businesses, one provision of Kemp’s order stands to benefit the healthcare industry. Hospitals in Georgia will be allowed to resume elective surgeries, an important component of their revenue streams the COVID-19 outbreak has cut off.
Chris Clark, president and C.E.O. of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday the criticism of Kemp’s decision to reopen businesses ignores the “measured and reasonable approach” the governor is taking.
Businesses that wish to reopen will have to follow a lengthy set of guidelines, including taking their employees’ temperatures, practicing safe distancing, disinfecting the premises and providing masks, he said.
“[Kemp] didn’t just say, ‘The economy is open,’ Clark said. “Every business has to figure out how to operate in this new normal.”
Clark said the safety guidelines will require many businesses to limit the number of customers they can serve at a time.
“What they’re asking is just to do enough to get by in the short term,” he said. “This still isn’t going to save some businesses.”
Clark pointed out Kemp’s decision does not require businesses to reopen. In fact, he expects some will choose not to because they don’t feel ready.
“This is not a mandate,” he said.