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As local COVID-19 cases decline, large gatherings could affect numbers
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Hundreds gather Monday, June 1, 2020, during the Newtown Florist Club rally in Gainesville in reaction to the death of George Floyd and the issues of police brutality and systemic racism. - photo by Scott Rogers

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Hall County’s COVID-19 cases remain relatively high in the state, with 2,508 confirmed cases as of Wednesday, June 3, making Hall the fifth highest in raw numbers and 15th highest in per capita numbers.

The Northeast Georgia Health System was treating 67 patients at its facilities Wednesday, and 31% of the system’s ventilators were in use, according to its data. As of Wednesday, 728 COVID-19 patients had been discharged from treatment, and 85 had died.

NGHS has seen a decline in COVID-19 patients over the past month. On May 1, the system was treating 146 COVID-19 patients. On May 15, that number was 95. Numbers are updated on the NGHS website each weekday.

However, with recent large gatherings in the area for protests and rallies, along with the Memorial Day holiday, those numbers could again increase.

“The incubation period for COVID-19 can range from 2 to 14 days, with most patients seeing symptoms by 5 days after exposure,” Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, chair of Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Infection Prevention & Control Committee, said in a statement. “Because of that, we will need to monitor the next few weeks very closely and we still urge everyone to wear a mask any time they’re out in public.”

Hundreds attended protests in downtown Gainesville on the weekend of May 30-31. Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, large protests have been held in cities worldwide to call attention to the issues of racism and police violence. 

Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, said at a press conference Tuesday the department would set up testing sites in Atlanta so those who attended protests could be tested for the virus. She also said testing would be made available for first responders, including the Atlanta police and fire departments, Georgia State Patrol and the Georgia National Guard.

The Georgia Department of Public Health is now updating its COVID-19 status report once daily at 3 p.m. to allow time for processing and validating cases.

Local Department of Public Health spokesman Dave Palmer said testing sites in Hall have been able to handle the demand, but if demand increases, current locations can ramp up operations. Over the past month, six free testing events hosted by the department have served 2,596 people, he said. The next free testing event will be Saturday, June 6, at J&J Foods on Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Toomey said “we want to ensure that the pandemic doesn’t spread because of this.”

“This situation is no different than any other situation we have talked about. When you have this many people gathered together in close proximity, you run the risk of viral transmission,” Toomey said. “I think you add to that the fact that individuals have come from out of state, where they maybe have even higher rates of infection and may be bringing it into our state and transmitting it.”

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