Updated at 6:19 p.m. Monday
The latest Trump administration report on the coronavirus in Georgia says the state is making some modest progress in fighting the pandemic.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force report, obtained by WABE, says Georgia was seventh in the country for new COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 people in the week leading up to Aug. 30. In previous weeks, the state was first and second in the U.S. for new infections.
The report also says Georgia was 18th in the country for the percentage of coronavirus tests that return positive results — in the prior week, the state ranked 11th.
“Georgia has seen a decrease in new cases and stability in test positivity over the last week, demonstrating continued week-over-week progress,” the report reads. “With continued aggressive mitigation and prevention of spread from universities to local communities, progress should continue and mortality should begin to decrease.”
WABE’s analysis of a number of key metrics shows Georgia’s coronavirus numbers are improving. New COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are down to levels not seen since early July.
Still, the task force document lays out just how far the state has to go to have the pandemic under control.
More than three-quarters of the counties in Georgia have “ongoing levels of community transmission” with close to half the state “having high levels.” The report says that shows the need for “continued mitigation.”
In addition, COVID-19 diagnostic testing continues to decline. The task force says the state conducted 10% fewer viral lab tests in the week leading up to Aug. 30. That figure fell more than 16% in the previous week.
The drop in testing comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has updated its testing guidelines to say that people who aren’t symptomatic don’t necessarily need to get tested for coronavirus, even if they’ve been exposed to someone with a known infection.
Public health officials and experts have questioned the change and worry it could lead to missed COVID-19 diagnoses.
“Testing is down statewide, as it is around the country,” said Nancy Nydam, with the Georgia Department of Public Health, in a statement.
“It’s possible that long waits to schedule appointments or to get results has discouraged people from being tested, people have grown COVID weary and have let down their guard about testing and prevention measures, and people aren’t traveling as much as they were a few weeks ago,” she continued.
Nydam also says testing capacity is the highest it’s been than during previous points in the pandemic, with some 180 specimen collection sites operating statewide.
The latest task force report recommends Georgia continue to “scale up” testing and contact tracing, expand testing capacity at universities and in nursing homes, and encourage people to limit social gatherings to fewer than 10 people, especially over the upcoming Labor Day weekend.
And while it continues to recommend the state close places such as bars and nightclubs “where social distancing and mask use can’t occur” in hot-spot counties, for the first time in weeks, it doesn’t suggest that state officials institute a state-level mask mandate in those counties.
Gov. Brian Kemp has long refused to institute any statewide mask rules, instead leaving that decision up to localities. A spokesman for the governor’s office declined to comment on the latest report.
Meanwhile, Kemp’s thoughts on the summer spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia became more clear Monday, upon the release of a letter the governor wrote to the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
In it, the governor says “many grew complacent” with the pandemic in Georgia as “summer holidays coupled with televised protests caused many to let their guard down and abandon guidance” from public health officials.
Kemp also calls the state’s coordination with the Trump administration “unmatched in our state’s history.”
The letter — dated Aug. 12 — is a response to a request from the House subcommittee from earlier this summer, which pointed out Georgia officials were not following a number of recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.