Virus cases, deaths continue upward climb in Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) — Confirmed infections and deaths from the coronavirus in Georgia continued to increase Monday as traveling to Savannah on the coast and into neighboring Florida became more cumbersome and one expert predicted Georgia’s daily toll will keep escalating until late April.
The Georgia Department of Public reported Monday that confirmed cases of the new virus have topped 3,000 statewide. Roughly one in four of those infected have been hospitalized and at least 100 people have died.
Dougherty County in southwest Georgia had at least 18 deaths, the most of any Georgia county, and continued to have the state’s highest per capita infection rate. Of the 12 counties with the highest per capita rates, 10 were in southwest Georgia.
Despite orders for people to avoid public gatherings in the region, Albany Mayor Bo Dorough told a news conference Monday he’s still fielding complains about residents playing basketball in parks and hanging out at convenience stores. Bill Mathis, the elected chairman of neighboring Lee County, urged people to minimize trips outside their homes.
“When you go to the grocery store, please don’t take your family,” Mathis said. He urged residents to get outside for walks and bike rides, at a safe distance from neighbors, “so you don’t go stir crazy.”
Officials in Savannah and surrounding Chatham County announced that any visitors arriving by plane, train or bus will be have their temperatures checked and face questions aimed at identifying anyone with COVID-19 symptoms who may need to self-quarantine. Checkpoints for screening travelers are expected to open in a few days. The job should be less arduous considering the outbreak has already caused a steep drop in travel.
“The airport normally has several thousand people come through there each day,” said Dennis Jones, Chatham County’s emergency management director. “Right now the numbers are 600 to 700, I believe.”
Farther south on the Georgia coast, travelers entering neighboring Florida on Interstate 95 began hitting a new checkpoint. The Florida Highway Patrol was stopping travelers and having them fill out paperwork as part of its governor’s order that travelers from states hit hardest by the virus — such as New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana — must isolate themselves for at least two weeks upon entering Florida. A dozen troopers were to staff the checkpoint at all hours.
The private club that hosts one of Georgia’s most prestigious sporting events said it is donating $2 million to help pay for coronavirus testing and other relief efforts in the Augusta area. Augusta National Golf Club announced the donation a little more than two weeks after postponing The Masters golf tournament.
An infectious disease expert at Emory University said Monday that he expects the new virus’ daily toll will continue to escalate in the coming weeks. Dr. Carlos del Rio said a model closely watched by epidemiologists predicts deaths in Georgia will peak around April 23, possibly with more than 80 people dying each day. He noted any model used to predict the toll of the virus has flaws.
Similar warnings from del Rio prompted the Georgia Municipal Association last week to urge leaders of all 538 Georgia cities to impose curfews and close some businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday praised del Rio for giving city officials “invaluable information.”
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
President Donald Trump declared a federal disaster in the state Sunday, clearing the way for federal aid.
Bynum reported from Savannah, Georgia. Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed from Atlanta.