Atlanta’s latest coronavirus updates: Friday, May 15

A quick roundup of what's happening in metro Atlanta and what you may have missed

Atlanta coronavirus updates
A customer dines at J. Christopher’s in Brookhaven on April 27. Even with businesses re-opening, Georgia’s total unemployment rate continues to climb.

Photograph by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

On Thursday, Georgia’s unemployment rate continued to rise and Zoo Atlanta announced its re-opening. Here’s your Friday morning update:

• As of publication time, a total of 36,554 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Georgia. 1,548 people have died. 301,874 tests have been conducted. A total of 6,381 of those tested were hospitalized at the time. [GA Dept. of Public Health]

• The Georgia Department of Labor processed 242,772 unemployment claims last week, bringing the total claims since the beginning of March to 1,849,382, or 37 percent of the state’s pre-pandemic workforce, the AJC reports. The national average is 22 percent. “The crush of applications for jobless benefits seemed largely unaffected by the state’s tentative efforts to open up the economy,” the AJC notes. Earlier this week, labor commissioner Mark Butler told us that Georgia’s higher-than-average claim rate might be due to the fact that Georgia is actually processing claims faster than other states. “For example, we’ve got Florida to the south of us. I think last week, out of all the claims they’d received, they’d only processed 12 percent,” Butler said. “That means they’ve gotten [the claim] in their system and it’s starting to move. By this time last week, we were at 80 percent of the claims that we’d gotten in, processed, and started paying out. Obviously, a lot of people still haven’t been paid.” [AJC/Atlanta]

In our interview, Butler also answered several of your reader-submitted questions about unemployment claims, including how to apply for PUA, how much employees can earn each week and still receive benefits, what happen if your employer re-opens but you aren’t comfortable going back, and more. Read the full story here.

• The latest COVID-19 spike in Hall County is concerning DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond. Even though the two counties are 40 miles away, several DeKalb county residents work in Gainsville’s chicken plants. Refugees in Clarkston are among the many who work at the plants, and a Clarkston physician told the AJC that language barriers and cramped living spaces don’t help the situation. As the AJC notes, “Things may cut both ways, of course, with folks from DeKalb contributing to the spread in Hall. Definitive conclusions will be hard to come by.” Says DeKalb’s district health director Dr. Elizabeth Ford, “We’ve been working very closely with Hall County and with (DeKalb’s) Clarkston community to make sure that they understand what precautions they as employees can take, and making sure that we make testing available to them.” [AJC]

The CDC has issued a health advisory about Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), a rare condition that has been associated with COVID-19. Symptoms present similar to Kawasaki syndrome—another rare condition that usually impacts children younger than 5 and causes inflammation of the blood vessels, including coronary arteries. MIS-C causes fever and inflammation, sometimes presenting as a bright red tongue, red eyes, or cracked lips. One physician at Boston Children’s Hospital told CNN that MIS-C is not caused by the coronavirus itself, but rather is an immune response to COVID-19. [CDC/CNN]

• Zoo Atlanta has announced it will re-open this weekend, and like the Atlanta Botanical Garden, it will rely on timed tickets to keep tabs on capacity. Tickets can only be purchased online in advance, and the zoo will be cashless. Visitors are encouraged to use maps on their cell phones, as paper maps will no longer be distributed. Buildings will also be closed with the exception of restrooms. Food will be available for purchase from outdoor kiosks. Masks are strongly encouraged. [WSB-TV]

• Beginning Saturday, Publix is changing its store hours to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and will no longer restrict the 7 a.m. hour to seniors and those with underlying conditions. It does encourage those shoppers to still visit during that time, as it’s generally less crowded. Pharmacies will also return to regular hours. [Publix]