Gov. Brian Kemp is touting “great progress” in easing Georgia’s COVID-19 epidemic, with newly reported cases and the number of hospitalized patients falling to levels last seen in June.
But some numbers could look different in the coming days as Georgia begins daily publication of results of rapid antigen tests, and the state remains on track, at least for now, to record 10,000 deaths this year from the respiratory illness.
The Republican governor spoke Wednesday to reporters at the Capitol, urging people to keep up their vigilance against infections, which have been confirmed in more than 326,000 patients in the state.
“We’ve been able to keep businesses open, most kids have been able to return to schools, and people have been able to go about their lives, in a smart responsible way. But that is only sustainable if we continue to do our part moving forward,” Kemp said.
Kemp has pushed a largely voluntary approach that has allowed businesses to open and eschewed a statewide mask mandate, despite intense criticism of those stances during the summer, when Georgia was recording the highest per capita number of new infections nationwide.
The state is now 28th in new cases per capita in the past 14 days, according to figures kept by The Associated Press, but is still recording twice as many cases as it was at a low point in May.
Georgia is recording fewer than 1,200 new cases per day, but that doesn’t include rapid antigen tests that have been growing in popularity. Because those tests are not as reliable as the molecular tests, Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey says the department will not count positives from antigen tests as confirmed cases.
But it is counting them as probable cases, alongside cases where someone is known to be exposed and develops symptoms but never is tested and cases where a death certificate lists COVID-19 as a cause of death or contributor to death.
As of Monday, Georgia has 21,348 of those probable cases, mostly from antigen testing, the Department of Public Health said. Toomey said the department would begin publishing probable cases daily on its website soon.
Many other states are including antigen positives as part of their overall case count. Outside observers of Georgia’s numbers say it’s important to publish the numbers to get an overall picture of what’s going on.
“Without that, we still aren’t seeing an ‘apples to apples’ comparison with other states,” wrote epidemiologist Amber Schmidtke, who writes a daily analysis of Georgia’s numbers.
Despite lower case counts and a decline in deaths, Georgia has continued to record an average of more than 30 deaths per day in recent days. With 7,259 deaths recorded so far, Georgia remains on track to record more than 10,000 deaths this year from the pandemic. That would be nearly 1 in 1,000 Georgians.
“I can tell you that what we work on every single day, every single day, is to prevent any death that we can, whether it’s in our long term care facilities and otherwise,” Kemp said. “And that’s what we will continue to do during the course of this pandemic.”
Both Kemp and Toomey urged people to make sure they get a flu shot, with Toomey saying officials were trying to prevent flu cases from filling hospitals, possibly crowding out space for COVID-19 patients if the state sees an uptick later.
“We’re trying to prevent twindemics of COVID plus influenza, which could be devastating,” Toomey said.
Kemp also touted economic progress, noting that the Georgia Department of Economic Development had granted incentives to businesses that in the three months ended Sept. 30 had announced more than 10,000 jobs and $3.71 billion in investment.