Updated Wednesday at 1:29 p.m.
Gov. Brian Kemp says the state has made progress slowing the spread of the coronavirus because Georgians “have done the right thing” and followed public health guidance.
In a Wednesday press conference, his first specifically dedicated to the state’s response to COVID-19 in weeks, Kemp highlighted how many of the metrics tracking the pandemic in Georgia are down considerably from a peak over the summer.
“We needed Georgians to be part of the solution and not part of the problem, and I’m very thankful and very proud of the fact that Georgians have stepped up to the plate,” he told reporters.
Many of the statistics Kemp cited have shown improvement. WABE’s analysis of state data shows newly-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are less than one-third of what they were in late July. Active coronavirus-related hospitalizations have been reduced by nearly as much.
That progress has happened as many school districts across the state have resumed in-person classes and as businesses continue operations under a strict set of guidelines set out in Kemp’s pandemic executive orders.
“We cannot take our foot off the gas,” the governor said. “We’ve been able to keep businesses open, most kids have been able to return to schools, but that is only sustainable if we continue to do our part.”
In recent days, that progress has slowed. Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases rose 3.4% in the six days leading up to Oct. 5, according to a report from the Georgia Department of Public Health.
In roughly that same time period, the percentage of coronavirus diagnostic tests that return positive results increased .7%.
When asked about the statistics from the state-produced report, Kemp accused members of the media of “cherry-picking the worst figures” but stopped short of dismissing his own public health agency’s analysis.
“Some people will only focus on some of the negative and none of the positive,” he said. “I can promise you I’m going to continue to tell the full story.”
The Trump Administration also has observed that some of Georgia’s recent gains have been reversed, if slightly.
The latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, obtained by WABE, says the state made a five-spot drop for its rate of new COVID-19 cases while moving up one spot for test positivity in the week leading up to Oct. 4.
The report makes a number of recommendations: ramping up testing, more case tracking in college towns, and the continued use of mitigation efforts like “mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds.”
Those measures, says Georgia’s top public health official, will be needed for some time, possibly well into next year.
“This virus hasn’t disappeared,” Dr. Kathleen Toomey, head of the state department of public health, told reporters. “We still have to take these preventive measures until the time when we have a vaccine and can move forward.”
Top U.S. public health officials have said a possible coronavirus vaccine isn’t likely to be widely available to the American public until spring or summer of 2021.
Some public health experts have warned that, even then, people will need to continue to take precautions such as wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.