7/2/20 statement on COVID-19 from Dr. Gary Voccio, health director for the ten-county Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District
Two weeks of increases in COVID-19 cases in the ten-county Georgia Department of Public Health Northwest Health District point to a concerning sign that our community is moving in the wrong direction to contain the virus. Districtwide, confirmed cases have increased 21% in the past two weeks.
Statewide, the seven-day average number of cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks, from an average of 1,000 daily cases in mid-June to 2,000 daily cases at the end of June.
At this time, we have not seen a corresponding increase in hospitalizations or deaths, but these events can take a few weeks longer to occur after infections increase.
We do not want to overwhelm our emergency rooms or hospitals with COVID-19 patients. If this happens, they would not be able to care for people with other acute illnesses.
July 4th weekend is coming, but COVID-19 won’t take a break for the holiday. The virus is as infectious as ever. Remember, we depend on one another to keep our community safe and stop the spread to our friends and family. Avoid close contact with others, keep your distance, and wear a mask.
Although an increase in cases with re-opening as people come into more contact with one another is not unexpected, the marked increase in cases is signaling that we need to take steps to limit further spread that could set back our re-opening.
Most of the increase is among younger people. 22% of all current cases are among people aged 18-29. Because infections can spread from this predominantly younger group to older community members and people with underlying health conditions, we are closely tracking the healthcare system for increases in hospitalizations.
The previous average age of a COVID-19 patient one month ago was 55. Now it’s 42. Our average age is decreasing because more younger people are getting infected.
The recent increase in COVID-19 cases is very concerning. Increasing cases and risk for acquiring COVID-19 in our community threatens the hard-earned progress we made during the stay-at-home order. This virus is very contagious, and we need to be vigilant – the risk from COVID-19 remains serious.
Everyone, especially young adults, needs to participate in COVID-19 prevention in all aspects of our lives, including social, recreational, workplace, and business settings to avoid a rebound in serious illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths.
No single exposure site has been driving the increase. Information from case investigations has pointed to multiple potential ways young people may be exposed. The largest proportion of cases continue to be reported among household contacts, but infections are likely acquired in many community settings — especially with large gatherings.
Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people getting tested for COVID-19. Testing to diagnose people with COVID-19 as soon as possible after symptoms develop is a very important step in reducing transmission.
In addition to increased transmission, increased testing may be turning up more cases that were previously unrecognized. Our district testing has doubled since early June, growing from 600 tests per week to 1,200 per week.
In addition, at the beginning of the epidemic, testing was only recommended for people who were symptomatic or essential workers. Now, testing is recommended for anyone. With this change in criteria, we may be identifying cases in people who otherwise would not have met the threshold for testing, such as younger people with mild symptoms.
To turn around these troubling trends, we all need to understand that the risk from COVID-19 remains high and take prevention measures seriously – for the long term. Anything that increases the number of people we have contact with or the proximity or duration of contact increases the risk for infection.
- That means we need to continue to practice safe physical distancing — avoid close contact (keep at least six feet of distance), crowded settings and group gatherings, and limit the duration of contact whenever possible.
- If you’re together with friends, being outside is much better than being inside. And, even when outside, avoid close contact with non-household members.
- Wear a face mask in public spaces, including outside when distancing is not possible.
- People who are older and people who have underlying health conditions should continue to stay at home and limit contact with others as much as possible.
- If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, stay home and away from others and get tested as soon as possible.
For more information about COVID-19, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV