ATLANTA - Georgia recorded its deadliest day so far in the pandemic on Tuesday, with 122 reported deaths.
Yet, new infections and hospitalizations have dropped this week.
Microbiologist Amber Schmidtke, who has been tracking the coronavirus outbreak in Georgia, says
the state is still experiencing intense coronavirus levels, showing few signs the outbreak here is waning.
This week the Georgia Department of Public Health launched a mega-testing site at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, capable of testing up to 5,000 people a day.
Schmidtke says expanding testing won't do much if the state doesn't have the contact tracers it needs to follow up those who test positive.
Testing and contact tracing, she says, must go together.
"As cases are identified, according to WHO guidelines, that person should be contacted within 24 hours of that positive result, and they're supposed to have a good list of all of the people came into contact with that may have been exposed within 48 hours."
A recent NPR survey estimated Georgia has just 13% of the contact tracers the state needs to keep up with its caseload.
"So that amounts to 13 investigators for every 100,000 residents," Schmidtke says. "When we've added 120,000 cases over the last 4 weeks, you can see that they've got their work cut out for them."
Georgia's positivity rate, or the percentage of people who test positive for the virus, is currently 10.8%.
That is lower than previous weeks but is still more than twice the 5% positivity goal the World Health Organization has set for containing the virus.
Still, the number of new infections dropped 6.6% and hospitalizations are down by 7%, according to the Georgia DPH.
New cases in the Metro Atlanta area appear to be decreasing, but the DPH is tracking hot spots in more rural counties in central, southeastern and north Georgia.
One hospital region in the Dublin area, Region H, has run out of ICU beds several times during the pandemic, Schmidtke says.
"It's a large geographic region, so it's all very rural," she says. "Many of those counties don't have a hospital at all, so they're having to cross pretty large geographic areas to access care."
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Schmidtke cautions the virus is still circulating widely and says Georgia is in a precarious position.
"We don't want to let our guard down in any way if we can help it," Schmidtke says. "You still want to be smart about managing your exposures. And, with the schools reopening, there is a risk of increased transmission. So, we just need to keep an eye on what happens.”
Schmidtke has a podcast, Public Health for the People, and publishes a newsletter on the Georgia coronavirus outbreak at www.amberschmidtkephd.substack.com.
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