Hall County Emerges As Coronavirus Hot Spot, Ramps Up Testing

A health care worker conducts a COVID-19 test in Virginia. Dr. Antonio Rios, with Northeast Georgia Health Systems, says a recent coronavirus test drive at a local clinic that serves the poor and uninsured drew 350 people.

Steve Helber / Associated Press

Updated Friday at 11:09 a.m.

With more than 1,900 cases of COVID-19, Hall County is quickly becoming a coronavirus hot-spot.  It is leading North Georgia in COVID-19 cases per capita, but it’s death rate with only 27 as of Friday, is far lower.

Health officials say they are seeing an increase of people admitted to the hospital.

“As our testing capabilities continue to increase, we will probably continue to also see a number of cases diagnosed that don’t necessarily need to be admitted to the hospital,” said Dr. Antonio Rios with Northeast Georgia Health Systems, which includes the local hospital in Gainesville.

Rios says a recent coronavirus test drive at a local clinic that serves the poor and uninsured drew 350 people.

“And that targeted under-served communities and about half of those tests came back positive.”

And half of those who tested positive for COVID-19, he said, were asymptomatic. The Department of Health is also starting to test more in Hall County.

“I think as the DPH is also increasing their testing for not only symptomatic patients but also for close contacts and eventually asymptomatic people overall, that we will get a better idea of where we are with those numbers,” Rios said.

About 30% of Hall county’s population is Hispanic, according to census data, but they make up more than half of all positive COVID-19 cases tested by Northeast Georgia Health Systems.

With some areas in Georgia opening up and the statewide shelter in place order lifting, Rios has been doing outreach events with the Hispanic community.

“What we worry about is the mixed message to the community. In several places, numbers are going down, and we haven’t seen that, and we don’t want our population to think the worst is over and not observe social distancing.”

Rios says the hospital system has added tents for extra capacity and is getting help from the state.

One model shows Hall County won’t hit its COVID-19 case peak until mid-June.