Updated Tuesday at 5:02 p.m.
Georgia reached a milestone this week, becoming the latest state to top 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.
The Georgia Department of Public Health added more than 3,400 cases to its count Tuesday, nearly breaking a previous one-day record and bringing the total number of cases to 100,470.
The state has routinely added thousands of new COVID-19 cases to its official counts in the last week. Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are also up past levels not seen since early May, according to official records. Deaths haven’t risen as quickly, the Georgia DPH reported 2,899 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon.
Georgia has averaged more than 20,000 tests a day over the past week, the highest level on record since the pandemic began. That high level of testing could account for some of the increase in new confirmed infections. But the number of cases is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
While new daily COVID-19 cases are rising in dozens of states across the country, only a few have topped 100,000 cases.
After Florida and Texas, Georgia is the third state in the south to do so.
Gwinnett Official Says County Is At Testing Capacity
Gwinnett’s top public health official says increased demand for coronavirus testing has maxed-out the county’s capacity to diagnose new cases of COVID-19.
The board of health is currently conducting 1,000 tests a day and sent nearly 5,000 tests to a private company for processing last week, says Dr. Audrey Arona, who leads the combined Gwinnett, Newton, and Rockdale county health departments.
“Public health cannot do tests for the entire community,” she said. “Other testing venues have to step up and provide a lot of this testing as well, because we’ve reached our capacity.”
Arona points out that her agency is not the only access point for testing. Pharmacies, doctors offices, and urgent care clinics also offer the service.
Still, the increased demand for testing has real effects. For one, it means people have to wait longer to find out if they’ve been infected. At this point, Arona says results could take as long as a week.
That complicates the county’s effort to track down people who have been potentially infected by the virus. Arona says by the time her staff is able to successfully complete a case investigation and the contact tracing process it’s often close to two-weeks after someone’s been exposed.
“Because of the delay in testing results, oftentimes the quarantine period for contacts is almost over by the time we get to them,” she said.
Kemp Asks For Help Urging Masks
Gov. Brian Kemp is asking county and city officials for help convincing Georgians to wear masks and standing by his decision not to mandate mask usage, despite the continued spread of the coronavirus.
Kemp’s COVID-19 executive order supersedes all local government’s abilities to loosen or strengthen any related regulations. That means technically, localities are not supposed to be able to do things like mandate masks. However, last week the mayor of Savannah went ahead and required them anyway, and the Athens-Clarke County Commission is set to vote Tuesday on whether to follow suit.
Despite those moves, Kemp is not budging from his position. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms told “Good Morning America” Tuesday that she has asked Kemp to allow her to mandate masks in the city and he refused.
“We don’t need a mandate to have Georgians do the right thing, but we do need to build strong, public support,” he said on Tuesday calls with county and city officials. “Let’s work together – with a unified voice – to remind Georgians what’s effective and important in this fight against COVID-19.”
He urged local leaders to join him in convincing Georgians to wear masks by choice and educating them about “good healthcare policy.”
“Let’s work together and urge all Georgians to do the right thing by wearing a mask. Let’s enforce social distancing rules so the spread will slow,” he said. “Let’s encourage the business community to double down on preventative measures to keep employees and customers safe. Let’s put people over partisanship, over political games, over pride and political power.”
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been steadily rising in Georgia since early May.
Athens Could Soon Mandate Masks
Athens Clarke County could join Savannah as the second city in Georgia to require masks in public places. The city council is expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting Tuesday night.
The Athens ordinance would require people to wear masks in public places and inside businesses. Employees of restaurants, stores and hair salons would also have to wear masks when interacting with the public.
Violators would be fined $25 on a first offense. Religious institutions are exempt. The ordinance would expire on Aug. 4 and does not apply to the University of Georgia.
The move could violate Gov. Kemp’s state of Emergency, which says local governments cannot pass stricter measures, but the Athens proposal refers to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that apparently says communities have the right to protect themselves against an epidemic.
Courts Pause Arraignments And Criminal Hearings
The Georgia State Court has paused arraignments and criminal hearings through July 17th due to the public health emergency.
The cancellations began Monday and applies only to state court criminal cases which will be rescheduled for a later date.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.