Experts react after Georgia named top state for exposure to COVID-19

Coronavirus

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The state of Georgia is being singled out, but not for a reason anyone would want during a pandemic.

Two new health models say you’re more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in this state than anywhere else in the country.

“It’s very sobering, but you know pandemics don’t go away on their own,” said Dr. Harry Heiman from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University. “We’re going back four months and have had this approach that says we want to reopen our state not based on the data, but in spite of the data.”

Heiman says the new health models come from Georgia Tech and the Harvard Global Health Institute.

“In both of these studies, Georgia ranked number one, meaning that people across the state of Georgia are at higher risk for contracting COVID in counties across our state than they are in any other state in the country,” he explained.

“Even the White House Coronavirus Task Force in its most recent report identified 109 out of 159 counties in Georgia as being in the red zone and the rest are in the yellow zone, meaning all those areas have ongoing community spread of coronavirus,” Heiman added.

Dr. Lawton Davis, the director of the Coastal Health District said he had been able to review at least some of the data and said it appears accurate.

Still, Davis said the Coastal Health District is not among the list of most troubled areas reportedly reaching the tipping point in terms of medical resources.

“All of our indicators remain too high in what we would probably call the red zone, that’s the bad news. But particularly in Chatham County and the Coastal Health District in general, the indicators are actually improving,” said Davis. “We have had the lowest seven-day rolling average and the lowest 14-day rolling average in the last couple of days since early July, so we are moving in the right direction.”

Davis also highlighted that a mask mandate has been in effect in Savannah for over a month and one just went into effect in Chatham County last week.

“You know, the timing is right to support the fact that the mask mandates may be contributing to our improvement,” he said.

“If we can continue to adhere to the good masking and social distancing protocols and the other public health hygiene measures, I am hopeful that we will continue to move in the right direction,” Davis added.

On Wednesday morning, Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted that the seven-day statewide average indicated cases were down 26% and current hospitalizations were down nearly 19%. He said the seven-day average of percent positive cases is currently 9.4% (per 100,000 people) and much improved from the previous 14.1%.

Wednesday afternoon, the governor also indicated to a reporter he wanted to know when the data was gathered because that would be an important date to determine if we were on the backside of the spread.

“We’re focusing on the areas where we’re seeing the highest spread and contact tracing where we have outbreaks and when you do that your percent positive is going to be higher than if you just test everybody everywhere,” the governor went on to say. “But we’re doing that because we’re focusing on protecting the most vulnerable in the community.”

Heiman, however, told News 3 that “in spite of the data that says the reopening was too fast, the governor has maintained the course and unfortunately, we’re paying the price for it not only in the number of cases but in people hospitalized and in people dying. If you look back last week, almost 500 people died as a result of coronavirus.”

In terms of information that hospitalizations are down, Heiman said there has been some flattening in the numbers but he also said that “Georgia still has some of the highest numbers of people hospitalized due to COVID as compared with other states.”

In the Coastal Health District, Lawton says while he is encouraged by the recent numbers in terms of some decline, he will be watching the numbers carefully now that some local school districts have resumed classes in person.

Davis also urged residents of the Coastal Health District to continue to follow guidelines of social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand-washing — and to avoid gathering in large crowds.

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