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Georgia’s increase in COVID-19 cases, deaths well off mid-summer peaks

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Georgia’s governor extended his emergency rules regarding COVID-19 again last week as the state surpassed 7,000 deaths from the respiratory illness.

The last two days, there have been fewer than 1,000 additional cases and fewer than 50 deaths in the Department of Public Health daily reports. The rolling average of cases now is just over 1,200 per day -- about 60% of the average one month ago and one-third of the rolling average in late July and early August.

The state’s seven-day average of new cases is still above the lowest point in late May. Georgia has ranked 24th in the country for new cases per capita in the past two weeks, down from a point during the summer when it was worst nationwide for that measure.

Gov. Brian Kemp extended the underlying state of emergency that allows him to issue other orders, which had been set to expire Oct. 10, until Nov. 9. The Republican pushed back the expiration of a series of rules and guidelines related to the pandemic from Oct. 1 until Oct. 15.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Georgia had recorded more than 323,714 confirmed cases since the first coronavirus patient was identified on March 1. There have been 7,192 deaths of people with the virus.

There were 30 additional deaths in Tuesday’s report, but none of them were in Southeast Georgia.

One complicating factor is the increasing usage of rapid antigen tests, which aren’t yet recorded in state figures. Department of Public Health spokesperson Nancy Nydam said the state has recorded nearly 29,000 positives from those tests, but they are not yet routinely published.

“Discussions are ongoing about when they will be included on the website,” Nydam wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

The share of positives on nasal swab PCR tests has fallen to a rolling seven-day average of 6.4%, getting close to the 5% level that experts say indicates a state is doing enough testing to catch outbreaks. The number of people hospitalized also continues to creep down, now at the same level as in late June.

Fewer new deaths are being recorded, even as the state’s total rose to 7,021 Wednesday. But with three months left in the year, if Georgia averages 33 deaths a day, it will surpass 10,000 deaths for the year. The state has averaged 35 deaths a day over the past week.

Kemp changed his orders to allow restaurant and bar workers diagnosed with COVID-19 to return to work once they’ve been symptom-free, without medication, for 24 hours, down from a previous three days. Spokesman Cody Hall said that was in accord with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor also acted to allow the state to grant college aid to certain students who haven’t been able to take the SAT or ACT college tests. Scheduled dates to take those tests have been repeatedly canceled in some locations because of the pandemic.

The Georgia Student Finance Commission can grant Zell Miller Scholarships to otherwise eligible 2020 high school graduates as long as they file a qualifying test score by June 30, 2021. The commission can also give the less-lucrative Hope Scholarship to students who haven’t graduated from eligible high schools as long as they file a qualifying score by that date. Most high school graduates can qualify for the HOPE Scholarship based on high school grades alone.

Kemp told reporters last week that he would keep the limit on public gatherings without social distancing at 50 people despite some suggestions that he lower the limit to 20. He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he and Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey don’t want to make rules people aren’t going to follow

“It’s a great idea, but people are over that. One of the things that Dr. Toomey and I have tried to do is to make sure that we’re putting things out there that people can buy into,” he said. “And to go backwards on that, I just don’t think people are going to comply with it.”


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