Three more cases of coronavirus in Barrow County were confirmed Thursday, bringing the countywide total to 106, and 33 more deaths from COVID-19 were confirmed across Georgia as the statewide death toll reached 881.
Meanwhile, three more patients at Northeast Georgia Medical Center Barrow were confirmed to have COVID-19, Northeast Georgia Health System officials reported Thursday, bringing the total to 13.
As of 7 p.m. Thursday, there were 21,833 confirmed cases in the state, according to the latest figures from the Georgia Department of Public Health. More than 300 cases and nine deaths were confirmed since the department's noon update. The statewide mortality rate is now at 4.03 percent of confirmed cases.
In Barrow County, three deaths have been reported from COVID-19 — a 66-year-old male, a 91-year-old female and a 64-year-old male, all of whom had underlying health conditions, according to the DPH.
The DPH also reported an additional 136 hospitalizations across the state Thursday, meaning a confirmed 4,154 people have been hospitalized in Georgia since the outbreak began (just under 19 percent of known cases).
More than 101,000 tests have been conducted in Georgia — a number that has been steadily increasing after a boost in the state's daily testing capacity through several public and private partnerships. Officials have acknowledged, though, the state continues to lag behind most of the rest of the country in testing per capita.
Fulton County continues to have the most confirmed cases in the state and saw that number grow to 2,436 Thursday, with 88 deaths confirmed there. DeKalb County has 1,689 confirmed cases and 34 deaths.
Dougherty County has the most confirmed deaths (109) and is at 1,478 cases. Gwinnett County is up to 1,351 cases and has had 46 deaths, while Cobb County is at 1,326 cases and 66 deaths.
Elsewhere around Barrow, Hall County has the sixth-most confirmed cases in the state (963) and has nine deaths. Clarke County is at 122 cases and 13 deaths; Walton County is up to 81 cases and has had three deaths; Jackson County has had 69 cases and one death; Oconee County is at 54 cases and no deaths; Madison County is at 19 cases and one death; and Banks County is at 17 cases and no deaths.
The next update from the DPH is scheduled for noon Friday.
Nationwide, there were over 864,000 confirmed cases and nearly 50,000 deaths as of 7 p.m. Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine online tracker.
The number of patients confirmed to have COVID-19 that are being treated at NGMC Barrow has more than doubled this week, from six on Monday to 13 on Thursday.
The number of patients being treated across Northeast Georgia Health System's four hospitals and the New Horizons Limestone long-term care facility in Gainesville — both positive for and suspected of having the coronavirus — remained at 126 on Thursday, so it's not clear whether the three additional positive cases at NGMC Barrow are new hospitalizations or have already been there. As of 10:45 a.m. Thursday, 58 patients across the system were awaiting test results. That was down from 66 on Wednesday.
Of the 126 patients, 70 are being treated at NGMC Gainesville, 23 at NGMC Braselton, 17 at Limestone, 13 at NGMC Barrow and three at NGMC Lumpkin. The system reported two more deaths at its facilities Thursday, bringing the total to 17, though it hasn't been reported how many at each one. The system reports it has had 1,052 cases and 10 deaths in Hall County. System officials have said its updated numbers won't match the latest available data from the DPH due to a lag in the state's reporting.
'REOPENING' TO BEGIN FRIDAY
As the numbers continue to increase, Georgia is set to begin a partial "reopening" of its economy Friday under orders from Gov. Brian Kemp.
Gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, grooming salons and massage parlors and their respective schools, and other indoor recreational/entertainment facilities will be allowed to resume operations by Friday, and restaurants will be allowed to reopen for dine-in services Monday — provided that new health and sanitization standards and guidelines are followed. It's not clear what enforcement mechanisms will be in place.
Movie theaters can also reopen Monday. Bars, night clubs and concert venues will remain closed for the time-being.
Local governments are not allowed to pass ordinances that are more or less restrictive than Kemp's order.
The statewide shelter-in-place order remains in effect through April 30, and the state's elderly and "medically fragile" residents are urged to continue sheltering in place through May 13, the date the statewide public health emergency declaration is set to expire.
Kemp's announcement Monday that he would begin easing restrictions and attempt to revive sectors of the economy that have been decimated during the pandemic has been met this week with pushback from public health experts and officials, mayors around the state, the governor's political rivals, U.S. Senate candidate and GOP Congressman Doug Collins, and even a key ally in President Donald Trump. Trump said Wednesday night at a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing that it was "just too soon" to begin the reopening process and that he "strongly" disagreed with the move.
In a statement Wednesday night, Kemp said he was pressing forward with the lifting of restrictions to "protect the lives — and livelihoods — of all Georgians."
Kemp and other state officials have said the increase in testing capacity will help Georgia be more prepared to handle another spike in infections. And they had cited an improved outlook from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model that showed Georgia may have already reached its peak with the virus. However, those projections assumed Georgia would continue to have stronger restrictions in place into June. The most recent projections from the model (April 22) forecast 2,254 deaths by Aug. 4. That's down from a previous projection of more than 3,700 deaths, but up from more than 1,300 when Kemp made his announcement Monday.
Northeast Georgia Health System officials have said the northeast Georgia region may not see its peak until May. The system currently projects its facilities will be at peak staffing capacity May 4.
According to the latest IHME forecast, after June 22 in Georgia, "relaxing social distancing may be possible with containment strategies that include testing, contact tracing, isolation, and limiting gathering size."
State officials have said they are preparing to begin an expansive contact-tracing program.
Anyone who believes they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or believes they may have been exposed to the virus is advised to contact their primary care doctor or an urgent care clinic. Do not show up unannounced at an emergency room or any medical facility. Only people who have been evaluated by public health officials at their local health department or a health care provider and assigned a PUI number will be referred to the drive-thru specimen collection sites.
A statewide COVID-19 hotline is available at 844-442-2681.
Continue to check barrownewsjournal.com for the latest local and statewide updates on the coronavirus pandemic.