ATLANTA — COVID-19 cases are once again rising across Georgia, mirroring the rest of the nation.
According to a recent White House Coronavirus Task Force report, 25% of Georgia counties have high levels of community transmission, while 67% have moderate levels.
The report dated Nov. 8 shows Georgia at 119 new cases per 100,000 population — the 40th highest rate in the country.
"Georgia has seen an increase in new cases and stability in test positivity; however, triangulation of data suggests there is increasing community spread, especially silent asymptomatic spread that will result in further increases in cases and hospitalizations,” the report says.
Experts have long worried about a winter surge in cases as temperatures cool and Americans transition to indoor settings.
Dr. Amber Schmidtke, a public heath researcher and former Mercer University professor, tracks Georgia’s coronavirus spread and said the latest numbers are “concerning” and likely a “conservative look” at the real spread of the virus across the state.
“In the past, our surges when they've happened have been regionally focused — they've been concentrated in the Northeast or in the South for us in the summer,” she told CNHI. "But this time it's everywhere.”
With spread so widely distributed across the state, Schmidtke said, health care providers won’t be able to seek additional hospital capacity or ventilators from neighboring regions.
“We're all just sort of holding our breath and hoping not to see those hospital admissions really start to trend upward,” she said.
The Georgia Department of Public Health released an update Wednesday, stating the number of new cases reported daily is increasing, “reinforcing the need for Georgians to continue to wear masks in public, practice social distancing, wash hands frequently and thoroughly, avoid large gatherings and get a flu shot.”
Gov. Brian Kemp took part in a call with metro Atlanta’s hospital CEOs Tuesday, according to his office, to update them on state efforts to mitigate coronavirus spread and to be briefed on what hospital administrators are seeing ahead of the holiday season.
Although cases have increased in recent weeks, the governor’s office said, “we remain encouraged that Georgia is not seeing the same level of exponential growth that states in the Midwest and Great Lakes region are experiencing.”
Georgia’s rate of new cases still falls below the national average of 209 per 100,000 population.
Schmidtke said one positive note for Georgia in the White House reports is hospitals' PPE supplies have increased, indicating resources are being distributed to those in need.
Last week, roughly 90% of Georgia hospitals only had zero to three days of PPE on hand, she said, while the most recent report shows about 50% of hospitals within that category.
“We've seen a dramatic improvement over the last week. I think that having that information in the last couple weeks has really kind of woken some people to the reality of how unprepared we are,” she said.
When Georgia fell from its peak COVID-19 hospitalizations after the summer surge, the bottom rate was still about twice as high as before the surge, Schmidtke said.
“Our hospitals are OK but they’re already operating at a higher capacity for COVID-19 than they were prior to the summer so we really shouldn't be trying to test their limits,” she said.
Still the report recommends Georgia evaluate all PPE levels in its hospitals, "as there appears to be significant issue with supplies."
The White House task force report also recommends Georgia conduct proactive testing among 18-to-40-year-olds in counties with high case rates.