Understanding record surge in coronavirus infections

Mercer University microbiology professor Dr. Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., has quietly built up a following across the state, of everyday Georgians trying to make sense of the pandemic.

Schmidtke says she created a Facebook page, Amber Schmidtke, Ph.D., in mid-March, as a way to break down the COVID-19 data for her college students.

She had worked at the CDC during the 2009 H1N1 flu outbreak and thought she could share her experience, to help simplify the data collected by the Georgia Department of Public Health.

At the time, she says, she only had about 100 followers.

Since then, Schmidtke added 13,000 more and has created a daily COVID-19 newsletter, amberschmidtke.substack.com.

With 97,064 confirmed cases and 2,878 deaths, as of July 6, 2020, Schmidtke believes Georgia could be facing a COVID-19 tipping point.

“I think a lot of people are cautiously holding their breath right now to see what happens," Schmidtke says. “I think we should be bracing for continued record-setting days, as far as cases go."

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Schmidtke creates graphs to break down what the virus is doing over a one-week or two-week timeframe.

Right now, the weekly case totals of new infections are surging, the graph pointing straight up.

Hospitalizations, which fell in May, are also now steadily rising, creating a U-shaped pattern on the graph.

The trend troubles her.

"I am concerned," Schmidtke says.  "Because what we experienced in March and April is now a small blip on our curve in comparison to where we are now."

Schmidtke says there is a lag time between infections and hospitalizations and deaths.

It can take 2 to 3 weeks for someone infected to develop symptoms, get tested, and then seek medical care if they need it.

So, Schmidtke says, we won’t know until later this month whether the surge in new infections will lead to a jump in hospitalizations and deaths.

Right now, she says, deaths statewide are dropping pretty rapidly.

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The recent spike in infections also appears to be skewing younger, she points out, with a jump in new infections in children and adults under the age of 40.

"That may help to explain why our case fatality rate is declining, the fact that the people who are getting sick are the ones who are less likely to potentially die from it," she says.

Schmidtke is watching about 40 COVID "hot spots," which are seeing a major jump in new cases, many of them in southeast and central Georgia.

"Counties of concern right now, a lot of them are along the coast," Schmidtke says.  "So, we're looking Glynn County, which has doubled its outbreak in the past week.  Bulloch County as well."

In the Metro Atlanta area and other urban areas, she says, there has been a steady rise in COVID infections rather than a major spike.

Schmidtke is urging Georgians to stay vigilant.

What we do or don’t do right now, she cautions her readers, will dictate how hard the state will be hit by the virus in the weeks to come.

"We're seeing in other states, especially Florida and Texas, we're seeing ICU's running out of capacity for patients," Schmidtke says.  "So, I am hopeful we don't see that here in Georgia.  But, we are just as vulnerable as Texas and Arizona and Florida to those outcomes."

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Know how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting Georgia

Best prevention measures:

• Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least twenty seconds.

• If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home when you are sick.

• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

• Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces


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