There has been some positive news about COVID-19 cases in Georgia lately. Although Georgia has reopened much of the economy, the feared surge in cases has yet to materialize. In fact, the overall change in new daily cases seems to be flat or even slightly decreasing. There have been two straight weeks in which new cases in the state have decreased. This is especially good considering Georgia’s rate of testing has increased. Additionally, in a tweet on May 9, Gov. Brian Kemp said the state had the fewest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since hospitals began reporting those numbers on April 8.
Today, the number of COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized (1,203) and the # of ventilators in use (897 w/ 1,945 available) is the LOWEST since hospitals began reporting this data on April 8, 2020. https://t.co/GrsAqhq9eO #gapol— Brian Kemp (@BrianKempGA) May 9, 2020
Still, it’s far too early to declare victory. Though Georgia has had some good news, the situation could change quickly. As Georgians find a semblance of normalcy, their closer proximity could leave Georgia more susceptible to an outbreak.
It hasn’t been long since Georgia’s shelter-in-place restriction expired, making it unclear what effect Kemp’s decision will have on case numbers. According to Stat, a medical news site, the incubation period can lead to a delay in case count. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it may take between two and 14 days for symptoms to appear after exposure to the virus. In other words, if a surge in cases occurred today, it might not show up in the data for over a week. This danger is highlighted by a model from Columbia University, which predicts a resurgence in U.S. coronavirus cases by the end of May.
Although Georgia’s numbers have improved, other states in the South are dealing with a new surge in cases. According to a Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer effort launched by The Atlantic to track the novel coronavirus, three Southern states that reopened early have seen increases in confirmed cases compared to the previous week, Tennessee saw a 33% increase, Louisiana saw a 25% increase and Texas saw a 22% increase. By contrast, 37 other states did not see increases in cases. Given their proximity to Georgia, an outbreak in Tennessee, Louisiana or Texas could leave Georgia vulnerable.
Finally, though cases have dropped, there is no guarantee they will continue to do so. Even if they do not surge, Georgia should not be content to settle for a plateau in new daily cases either. According to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis of data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, the seven day rolling average of new cases was 612, as of May 18. If those numbers were to hold steady, then the state could see around 45,000 new cases by the end of July.
I hope the data is a sign of better things to come. However, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around what will happen, especially given the possibility of a second wave. Georgia needs to continue to closely monitor case trends and support its health care system.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article had a headline that said Georgia's COVID-19 case number had decreased. This is incorrect. In reality, Georgia's daily rate of new COVID-19 cases has decreased. The Red & Black regrets this error.