COVID-19 infections may be rising again in Georgia

Five weeks ago, Georgia became the first U.S. state to lift shelter-in-place restrictions and begin reopening businesses after a month-long shutdown.

At the time, critics warned the move could have deadly consequences, triggering a wave of new COVID-19 infections and deaths.

If you look at data from the Georgia Department of Public Health's COVID-19 page, Bob Bednarczyk, an assistant professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, says Georgia’s coronavirus numbers looked pretty good.

"We did start to see we were making some progress," Bednarczyk says.

The 7-day moving average number of new infections on the DPH graph seemed to be dropping throughout early May.

But, he says, about 3 weeks into the month, the numbers began going up again.

"There was one peak happening around May 19th, and then a little bit of a small dip in there,"

 Bednarcyzk says.  "But, this is really bringing us to that critical two-week window (after that) that we're paying a lot of attention to."

Bednarcyzk says that window from mid to late May onward is a gray area, because it takes time for a person to be exposed to this new virus, get sick, and then go and get tested.

So, the numbers on the DPH website reflect what was happening in Georgia two weeks ago.

"Just recently we had Memorial Day (weekend), and a lot of people were out there," he says.  "So, we are expecting to monitor new cases, given that there will have been more opportunities for transmission of this virus."

As of 3 p.m. Friday, the Georgia DPH website is reporting 50,621 confirmed COVID-19 infections, 8,646 hospitalizations and 2,174 deaths. 

1,897 people have been admitted to the ICU with complications of the virus since the outbreak began in March.

Overall, Bednarcyzk says, Georgia has not seen the predicted jump in COVID-related deaths and hospitalizations, but the number of new infections has remained steady.

 He says the warmer weather may help drive down new infections.

"The concern is, this is a new virus, and we don't have a lot of experience with it across the population," Bednarczyk says.  "So, those gains we've seen from the weather may not translate into a full reduction of cases in the summer months."

He is closely watching what is happening with the virus on a local or county level.

"Knowing what's happening in some of these smaller areas can help us to identify if there are new hot-spots we need to pay attention to," he says.

Bednarcyzk says it's too soon to say if Georgia is experiencing a true rise in infections.

For now, he says, the numbers seem to be trending in the right direction. 

Still, he cautions, this virus is still very much with us.

"So, we need to stay vigilant," Bednarczyk says.  "We need to keep up on the practices that we've been doing: wearing a mask, hand-washing, trying to avoid larger gatherings to try to minimize the spread of this virus."

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Live map: Tracking coronavirus in Georgia