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State and local health officials urging COVID-19 precautions ahead of Labor Day weekend
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Nurses wearing masks work Monday, July 20, 2020, inside the emergency room at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center. - photo by Scott Rogers

State and local health officials are urging Georgians and Hall County residents to take precautions that will stunt the spread of COVID-19 as the Labor Day weekend approaches. 

 The Northeast Georgia Health System is encouraging locals to “be more vigilant” about avoiding crowds during the holiday weekend, after Hall County and the surrounding region observed a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations following the July Fourth weekend

According to data updated daily on the NGHS website, COVID-19 numbers at NGHS hospitals stayed between the high 40s and low 70s in the weeks leading up to July Fourth. About two weeks after the holiday weekend, numbers broke 100 and continued trending upward until reaching a peak on Aug. 10 at 179 patients, the data shows. 

“When you look at the objective data, there’s no doubt that our community got a little too relaxed as we celebrated Independence Day – and the resulting increase in COVID activity put people’s lives in danger and placed tremendous strain on our healthcare workers,” said Dr. John Delzell, one of the health system’s COVID-19 Incident Commanders with a background in Public Health. “Please celebrate Labor Day safely and help stop the spread by avoiding large parties, wearing your mask around others, watching your distance and washing your hands.” 

The NGHS seven-day average of positive COVID-19 tests hovered between 5% and 10% in May and June. Those levels were in line with the state average and the World Health Organization’s recommendations, which indicate that the positive rate should remain at 5% or lower for 14 days before communities should fully reopen all services.  

On July 4, the NGHS seven-day average jumped to 11.5% and leapt to a record 28% by July 16. 

“It’s taken a lot of hard work by this community to steadily lower the positivity rate, which is now at 15%,” said Dr. Supriya Mannepalli, Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s medical director of Infectious Disease Medicine. “We need to continue to work together to keep that positive momentum – especially as we head into a holiday weekend, schools are back in session and flu season is starting.” 

While the health system’s seven-day 15% positivity rate for COVID-19 tests is higher than the current state average of 10% and the WHO’s goal of 5%, Mannepalli said the reduction since July 16 is “still great progress trending in the right direction.” 

As of Friday, NGHS reported 100 COVID-19 positive patients being treated at its hospitals, 71 of whom were being treated at Gainesville’s Northeast Georgia Medical Center. There have been 269 COVID-19 deaths at health system hospitals, while 2,050 total patients have been discharged. 

“Just keep following the simple precautions to help keep the people of this community, as well as local schools and businesses, healthy,” Mannepalli said. 

State health officials on Friday also issued their own warnings, noting Gov. Brian Kemp’s request for Georgians to do “four things for fall” to prevent the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask; stay 6 feet away from others; wash your hands frequently or use hand sanitizer and follow public health guidance. 

“One of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to avoid large gatherings, even those held outdoors. People who do not know they are infected can still spread COVID-19 to others who then continue the spread by infecting their household or their community,” the release says. “The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19.” 

Face coverings, the release continues, are not a substitute for social distancing, but rather prevent respiratory droplets that transmit the virus from spreading to others when talking, coughing or sneezing. 

“Wearing a face covering or mask is about protecting your neighbors, friends, relatives and other members of your community, especially those at high-risk,” the release says. “Face coverings and social distancing together provide the best protection for you and those around you.” 

The state said cases and hospitalizations in the state have decreased in recent weeks and that following the governor’s “four things” will help to continue that trend and prevent a Labor Day surge. 

 As a fifth measure, the Georgia Department of Public Health news release says, “it is also a good time to get a flu vaccination.” 

“This year it is more important than ever to get a flu shot,” said Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, DPH commissioner. “We want to protect people from getting the flu and prevent our health care providers and hospitals from being overburdened with flu and COVID-19 patients.” 

As part of its daily data updates, DPH reported Hall County has reached total 8,023 cases on Friday. Overall, 869 Hall residents have been hospitalized, and 130 have died. 

There have so far been 279,354 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state, with 25,402 hospitalizations and 5,931 deaths.