In early June, we paused our daily coronavirus updates. However, we will continue to provide updates weekly. Here’s what you need to know right now.
• As of publication time, a total of 87,709 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Georgia. 2,849 people have died. 883,239 viral tests have been conducted, and 9.1 percent of those have been positive. A total of 11,500 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]
• COVID-19 cases continue to surge statewide. Wednesday set a record of 2,946 new COVID-19 cases recorded, only to have that record smashed just 24 hours later with 3,472 new cases reported Thursday. And while deaths are not surging upward at the same accelerating rate, hospitalizations are on a steady upward trend, with 1,649 current patients reported on July 2. The AJC reports that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also noted on a conference call with city council that the virus continues to disproportionately impact Fulton County’s Black residents. According to the mayor, 45 percent of new Fulton cases have been in Atlanta, and 51 percent of those cases and 86 percent of the deaths have been among Black Atlantans. [AJC 1/AJC 2]
• Governor Brian Kemp signed a new executive order on Monday to extend the state’s public health emergency, which requires businesses to continue COVID-19 safety requirements through July 15 and gives Kemp the authority to issue more emergency restrictions through August 11. The elderly and those with underlying conditions, as well as residents of long-term care facilities, are instructed to shelter-in-place through July 15. [AJC]
• Governor Kemp has spent the past week on a fly-around tour all over the state, encouraging Georgians to wear masks, but has stood firm that he will not enact a mask statewide mask mandate. On Tuesday, Savannah’s Mayor Van Johnston signed an emergency order that requires people to wear face coverings when out in public in the city. The city is the first in Georgia to pass such a requirement, and many wondered if Kemp would try to block the order, as his statewide executive order prohibits cities and counties from implementing requirements that supersede the state’s. Kemp has not said yet one way or the other what he will do about Savannah’s bill, only saying, “I wouldn’t be able to speak about any state action, because I haven’t had time to really discuss the matter. But regardless of any legal action that may or may not happen, you shouldn’t need a mask mandate for people to do the right thing.” [AJC 1/AJC 2]
• U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams visited Gwinnett County on Thursday, where COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising since May. The county currently has more cases than any other in the state. Adams urged the public to wear masks, saying that “wearing a face covering or a mask is not a restriction of your freedom,” but according to the AJC, he “indicated he didn’t believe Kemp should implement a statewide mask mandate.” [AJC]
• However, experts at Emory are urging government leaders to implement mask mandates. During a Wednesday morning call, Emory Healthcare CEO Jonathan Lewin cited their own facilities as evidence that such mandates work: at first, Emory Healthcare encouraged its nonclinical workers to wear masks but didn’t require it—and COVID-19 cases spread as employees unknowingly transmitted the virus at work. “When we required masks, we saw our infection rates within our workforce plummet to near zero. That’s something that has scientifically has been shown around the country and the world,” Lewin said.
Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory epidemiologist and global health expert, said that the current surge in cases can be traced back to Memorial Day weekend and is likewise concerned about the Fourth of July holiday. “Going out with lots of people, in large gatherings, to watch the fireworks is not a good thing. I’m really concerned about this
holiday and what people do,” he said.
Both Del Rio and Lewin also underscored that wearing a mask supports the economy by preventing the spread of COVID-19. “I’ve been greatly troubled over the last few months where people say it’s either public health or economic recovery. That’s a false dichotomy. The more we can take care of public health, the more we’re keeping the economy in the right direction,” Lewin said. [Reporting by Atlanta contributor Michele Cohen Marill]
• As cases rise, there are some reports of longer lines at testing sites and delays in results, according to the AJC. While the state maintains there are still plenty of tests available statewide, Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest lab systems in the U.S., has said that it is experiencing “unprecedented” demand. Despite concerns, there are no statewide restrictions on who can get a test, unlike in the spring, and you do not have to be symptomatic to get tested. [AJC]
• That said, thanks to the Fourth of July holiday, there are some testing sites that will be closed this weekend, including the DeKalb County Board of Health sites, which will be closed from July 3-5. 11 Alive has a list of testing sites that are open this weekend, Fulton County has a list of sites open on the 3rd, and the Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale County Health Department says it will have testing available on Friday and Saturday mornings. [11 Alive/AJC]
• A few prominent Atlantans have become ill with COVID-19—former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is currently hospitalized with the disease but is not on a respirator and is “resting comfortably,” according to a statement. Cain recently traveled to President Donald Trump’s June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, where several campaign staffers tested positive for COVID-19, but a post on Cain’s website also said the 74-year-old could have contracted it from a recent visit to Arizona.
Former Democratic senate candidate Sarah Riggs Amico also posted a thread on Twitter this week about contracting COVID-19, describing how quickly her symptoms went from “mild and annoying” to the point where she could “barely stand.” She wrote, “While I’ve seen some improvement over the last two weeks, I’m far from well. I’m still coughing, exhausted & can’t taste anything (weirdest #COVID symptom), but I’m grateful my fever’s gone, body aches are improving & I’m quarantining at home.” She urged Georgians to wear masks. [CNN/Twitter]
• The Cobb County School District has pushed its opening date of August 3 back by two weeks to August 17. The superintendent says the delay is to give both parents, students, and teachers more time to prepare for the coming year. Fulton County Schools have also delayed their opening to August 17. [WSB-TV/AJC]
• Not that lighting fireworks has ever been a risk-free activity, but a word of warning as July 4th approaches—alcohol-based hand sanitizer is flammable. And if it has not fully dried and evaporated from your hands by the time you light a firework, well, that’s probably going to be bad news. Per the AJC, it can take 30 seconds for sanitizer to fully evaporate once applied. Experts advise washing hands with soap and water rather than using sanitizer before lighting fireworks or using a punk stick. [AJC]
• The Federal, Shaun Doty and Lance Gummere’s steakhouse in Midtown, has closed permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Eater Atlanta]
• More restaurants have closed temporarily after employees tested positive for COVID-19, including Bread & Butterfly, Buttermilk Kitchen, and Grindhouse Killer Burgers. [Eater Atlanta]
• Live music venues were officially allowed to re-open on Wednesday, but most haven’t for a variety of reasons. Instead, the Parking Lot Concert series is giving Atlantans a chance to experience live music and see their favorite artists. But those, too, don’t come without risk. Atlanta contributor Jewel Wicker explores the concept in this recent story.
• Zoo Atlanta is one of many local attractions that has re-opened with enhanced safety guidelines. Atlanta contributor Carly Cooper took her young children for a visit and found some of the new measures—such as the zoo’s one-way path and marked off spots for families to stand in front of exhibits—are better than before. Read her experience here.