On the Week in Review for June 29 to July 4, WABE Managing Editor Alex Helmick highlights stories from our journalists on the surge in new, confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia. We’ve seen the daily record of confirmed cases get broken several times in the last few days. And Emory health officials say they’ re worried July 4th gatherings will further increase cases in the state, especially if people don’t wear masks.
“During this Fourth of July weekend, there are things we should do and things we shouldn’t do,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio of the Emory University School of Medicine. “Going out with friends in large gatherings to watch fireworks is probably not a good thing. We really need to remember that there’s a pandemic happening right now.”
Del Rio blames gatherings over Memorial Day in part to the current uptick in cases in Georgia.
“There’s been a marked increase in hospitalizations throughout metro Atlanta if I talk to my colleagues around the city, and at Emory Healthcare, we’ve seen an almost doubling of our in-patients in the last week,” said Jon Lewin, president and CEO of Emory Healthcare. “We are on a trajectory like we’re seeing in Houston … like we’re seeing in Arizona … that brings us in metro Atlanta toward high concern for overwhelming our health system, yet again.”
Many of the new cases are younger people, and there is a higher number of Latinx patients, according to Lewin. The hospital system isn’t overwhelmed yet, he said, but that could be because there is often a two-week lag time between getting COVID-19 and the need for hospitalizations.
“They’re spreading it,” Jansen said.“We have a number of patients who come into the emergency department who turn out to be positive and don’t require admission. But it’s early on in this sort of new surge.”
Savannah’s taking action …
Van Johnson, the mayor of Savannah, has issued a first-in-the-state requirement that people wear face masks in his city. He told WABE’s Sam Whitehead on the podcast, “Did You Wash Your Hands?” that a rise in coronavirus infections led him to issue it. The city order seems to violate a state order that prevents local governments from making their own public health rules.
As Johnson made his announcement, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was asked if she would follow suit. But Bottoms says enforcing a possible mask mandate in the city could strain an already overtaxed police department.
“We are already having to redirect our resources from our police department to make sure our mass gatherings are as safe as they can possibly be, and this will be a further stress of our resources to then have our officers enforce a mask ordinance,” said Bottoms.
The University System of Georgia says it will “strongly encourage,” but won’t require, students and staff to wear face coverings when classes resume this fall. Some professors and students say that doesn’t go far enough. More than 7,000 faculty, staff and students from across the university system have signed a petition asking USG to reverse course and require face coverings. Some students and faculty have also been outspoken about the issue on social media.
In major non-COVID-19 news, the former Atlanta police officer charged with felony murder and 10 other charges in the killing of Rayshard Brooks on June 12 has been released on bond. Garrett Rolfe posted the $500,000 bond this week. On Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jane Barwick set the amount with requirements that include him wearing an ankle monitor, complying with a curfew, surrendering his passport, not possessing any guns and having no contact with victims, witnesses or Atlanta police officers.
“I say no to it,” said Brooks’ wife, Tomika Miller, who sobbed throughout an emotional plea to the judge, asking her not to grant bond for Rolfe. “I say no because, mentally, I’m not able to handle it.”
After a long, cordial talk between Brooks and two officers, a struggle ensued. Brooks took a Taser from one of the officers, appearing to shoot it back at them as he ran away. Rolfe then shot Brooks twice in the back. Fulton County’s district attorney then says Rolfe kicked the dying man as the other officer, Devin Brosnan, stepped on him.
Atlanta’s police chief soon resigned after the shooting that also sparked a day of violent protests the night after at the Wendy’s where Brooks was shot. The restaurant was burned to the ground. Three people have been arrested on arson charges in that case.
Rolfe faces life in prison.
Lawyers for both Rolfe and Brosnan have said their actions were justified.