Updated at 4:45 p.m. Tuesday
The Trump administration says Georgia is finally out of the “red zone” when it comes to newly confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force obtained by WABE says the state had just 92 newly confirmed infections for every 100,000 people in the week leading up to Sept. 27.
That makes Georgia 23rd in the country for new cases, a nine-spot improvement from the previous week and puts the state just outside the bounds of the most severe category of disease spread just weeks after it led the country in newly confirmed cases.
The state’s test positivity rate also dropped five spots from last week’s report, continuing a general downward trend.
Mary Ukuku, who teaches public health at Kennesaw State University, says she’s “cautiously optimistic” about Georgia’s recent progress.
“I’m cautious because we don’t have some of the medical interventions like a vaccine … that could help with toning down the impact of the virus,” she said.
Ukuku says she’s also worried that people will see the state’s improving numbers and become less vigilant about practicing mitigation efforts, such as wearing masks and avoiding crowds.
“We could become comfortable, and once we get into our regular routines, we start to slack off, and so it may not be as consistent as it was at the beginning [of the pandemic],” she said.
That’s a concern shared by officials with the Georgia Department of Public Health, who have continued to encourage adherence to prevention measures even as the pandemic slows down in the state.
“It would be easy for people to become complacent because of what they are seeing in the data,” said agency spokeswoman Nancy Nydam. “It is critical, especially heading into cooler months when people will spend more time indoors, that Georgians continue to follow COVID-19 prevention guidance.”
The nation’s top public health officials have warned that this fall could be an especially difficult one for the U.S. health care system, as it handles the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the regular flu season.
However, there are some early indications that some of the prevention measures put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus might also keep influenza at bay.
Still, the White House report says Georgia risks losing ground if “strong mitigation efforts” aren’t continued statewide, “including mask wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowds.”
The report specifically recommends that state officials ask all Georgians to limit social gatherings to “20 or fewer people.”
Current state rules allow for 50 people to congregate at a time, and Gov. Brian Kemp has shown little interest in rolling them back to only allow smaller social events.
“People are over that,” Kemp told reporters Tuesday. “One of the things that … I have tried to do is to make sure that we are putting things out there that people can buy into.”
Even though the governor hasn’t telegraphed any major changes coming to his next coronavirus executive order, which is expected to come this week, he continues to stress that Georgia isn’t out of the woods.
“It’s imperative that we continue to keep our numbers in good shape, so we can further reopen methodically like we have been,” Kemp said. “I know that’s very hard for people. I’m tired of it. I know they are. But when people get complacent is when you start seeing spikes.”
Despite the fact that more than 200,000 deaths have been linked to COVID-19 in the U.S. — with close to 7,000 counted in Georgia — public health officials have warned that a vast majority of the country is still vulnerable to coronavirus infection.
And while cases are falling in Georgia, many states are seeing increased transmission as there’s mounting evidence that the nation is far from any level of “herd immunity” that could quell the pandemic.