After flattening and even declining numbers throughout the second half of September and all of October, Barrow County has begun to see an uptick in coronavirus cases again, mirroring increases in Georgia that landed the state back in the “red zone” in the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s report for the first time since mid-September.

The latest figures are part of the recent nationwide surge that has seen record-breaking numbers of daily cases confirmed across much of the U.S. and had numerous public health leaders and experts worried that the country is entering the worse phase yet of the pandemic — even with the promising news of the last two weeks that two separate vaccines have shown more than 90 percent effectiveness in early trials and could be ready for distribution to as many as 20 million Americans by late December if they clear the remaining regulatory hurdles.

Health leaders from around the country down to the local level are continuing to urge extra caution with colder weather, flu season and holiday season arriving.

The Georgia Department of Public Health, on Tuesday, Nov. 17, confirmed 3,603 more cases around the state, bringing the cumulative total to 391,466 as of 3 p.m. Twenty-seven more deaths were also confirmed, raising the death toll to 8,496. In Barrow County, 28 more cases were confirmed Tuesday (the most confirmed in a single day in the county since Oct. 6), bringing the cumulative total 2,891. Fifty-six county residents have now died from COVID-19, according to the latest official tally.

Chad Hatfield, president of Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow, called the latest trend “alarming,” adding that it is “in line with what we’re seeing across the region and state.”

Northeast Georgia Health System, which includes NGMC Barrow, saw the percentage of positive results on COVID-19 tests given at its facilities, spike from 11 percent to 16.95 percent on a seven-day rolling average in the past week, and that rate has sharply increased from a 9.6-percent mark on Oct. 15.

And after seeing between 70-80 patients per day confirmed to have COVID-19 across its facilities, NGHS had its 11th consecutive day with over 100 confirmed-positive patients on Tuesday. As of Tuesday morning, the system was treating 116 positive patients and 40 more who were awaiting test results. That included five at NGMC Barrow and 29 at NGMC Braselton, where most people in Barrow with severe cases tend to be sent. NGMC Barrow reported treating seven positive patients three straight days from Nov. 11-13 — the first time it had reached that number since May 12, according to NGHS records.

In all, 402 people have died at NGHS facilities since the start of the pandemic, while 2,853 patients have been discharged.

The latest numbers in the county and surrounding area are “clear evidence that we are still in the midst of the pandemic, and we all need to take simple steps to keep each other safe during the holidays and winter months,” Hatfield said. “Please keep practicing the ‘3 Ws’: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance. And don't delay your care — we're here if you need us.”

Enhanced mitigation measures have shown some signs of being successful around the county, particular in Barrow County School System facilities, where mask mandates and various other protocols are in place. The school system, which has been releasing a weekly public report on its number of cases, has continued to report a handful of newly-confirmed cases every week among students and staff, but has not sustained any major outbreaks that would cause schools to be shut down.

THANKSGIVING SAFETY TIPS

With many families preparing for larger, extended-family gatherings for Thanksgiving, NGHS released a number of safety tips last week aimed at reminding people the holidays this year should not be treated as business as usual.

“Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19,” officials said in a news release. “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you must travel, be informed of the risks involved.”

Officials urged people to avoid “higher-risk activities” such as attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household, going shopping in crowded stores, participating in or being a spectator at crowded parades, races or other events, and using alcohol or drugs, which could impair judgment and increase risky behaviors.

Officials encouraged instead having a small Thanksgiving dinner with people who live in your household; preparing traditional family recipes family members and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and delivering them in a contactless manner; having a “virtual” dinner with extended family members and friends; shopping online; and watching sporting events, parades, movies, etc. from home.

Officials said activities that would be considered “moderate-risk” include having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community; visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before handling fruits, mask-wearing is encouraged or required, and social distancing can be maintained; attending small outdoor sporting events where safety precautions are in place.

If you are planning on hosting a larger family gathering, officials advise following these recommendations:

•Outdoors is safer than indoors. You could also consider gathering in a garage with doors open or on a porch.

•Wear a face covering when around anyone who does not live in your home.

•Stay at least six feet from others and wash hands frequently.

If you may have COVID-19 or you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not participate in in-person festivities.

When planning to host a holiday celebration, you should assess current COVID-19 levels in your community to determine whether to postpone, cancel or reduce the number of attendees.

Learn more holiday tips at cdc.gov/coronavirus.

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