Increase in new virus infections levels off in Georgia

The rise in coronavirus infections has slowed in Georgia, although transmission of the respiratory illness remains widespread in the state.

Georgia is averaging about 1,600 new coronavirus cases a day confirmed through genetic tests, according to a seven-day rolling average, plus about 500 a day confirmed through less accurate antigen tests.

Those numbers were higher Monday than they were a week earlier in Georgia, but had come down in recent days from even higher peaks. It’s unclear whether the change represents an enduring trend or just a pause in the steady rise in cases that Georgia has seen since early October, with cases confirmed through genetic tests having risen nearly 40%. Those tests show nearly 375,000 confirmed infections.

Georgia started releasing daily antigen numbers last week after releasing once-a-week totals for two previous weeks. Officials had been promising to add the number for weeks, after national experts said the best accounting for the disease would include those tests results as well.

There are other discouraging signs. The share of positive tests in Georgia has risen over the past two weeks from 7.2% on Oct. 26 to 7.4% on Monday. Experts say that if more than 5% of tests are coming back positive, it suggests that too few tests are being done and many infections may be going undetected. The increasing positivity rate could also be affected by a decline in recent days in genetic tests for the virus, considered the most accurate.

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The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 continues to creep up, having averaged nearly 1,500 on days over the past week, up 17% from October lows. As yet, hospitalization increases are tracking below increased case rates. The number of deaths Georgia is recording has rebounded off of recent lows to around 30 a day. The state had confirmed 8,223 deaths as of Monday, as well as 454 probable deaths.

Deaths typically come only after new cases are detected and people are hospitalized. While most people who contract the coronavirus recover after suffering only mild to moderate symptoms, it can be deadly for older patients and those with other health problems.

Cody Hall, a spokesperson for Gov. Brian Kemp, said the Republican would hold a conference call with metro Atlanta-area hospital leaders Tuesday “to ensure our successful public/private partnership continues as we head into the winter months.”

Kemp remains in quarantine until later this week, Hall said, after the governor was exposed to the virus at a political event in LaGrange.

Kemp has said little about COVID-19 in the last month, even as it was major subject of national debate in the run-up to the presidential election. Hall did not answer questions asked by The Associated Press about what Kemp would like to see from the federal government as Democrat and election winner Joe Biden announced his own coronavirus task force Monday.

Hall said Georgia is working on its vaccine distribution plan and has stockpiled a 60-day supply of masks and other protective equipment.

The state’s report on Monday listed 50 high-transmission counties, where the positivity rate has been above 10% in the last two weeks and the number of new cases was above 100 per 100,000 residents during that time. They include 15 counties in west and northwest Georgia, including those that are home to Carrollton, Rome and Dalton. There’s another belt of 15 counties along the South Carolina line north of Augusta and east of Athens. There’s also a cluster in the south Atlanta suburbs of Clayton, Henry and Spalding counties.

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