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UPDATE: Coronavirus cases up significantly in Athens, northeast Georgia

By Joe Johnson

Athens-Clarke and other counties in northeast Georgia on Thursday recorded significant increases in confirmed cases of the highly-contagious novel coronavirus disease, also known as COVID-19, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

As of 7 p.m. Athens-Clarke County had 29 confirmed cases, up from 24 cases when the DPH previously updated its statewide coronavirus status reportseven hours earlier. The county had 21 cases Wednesday afternoon.

Athens-Clarke is one of 10 counties in DPH’s Northeast Health District.

The DPF provides statewide coronavirus updates twice daily, at noon and 7 p.m.

The county in the health district with the next most confirmed cases of the potentially deadly disease is Oconee, which remained steady throughout the day Thursday with seven cases, according to the DPH.

Barrow County had the next most cases, increasing from four at noon on Thursday to five at 7 p.m., the DPH said.

The number of cases in Madison County increase from two to three during the seven-hour span on Thursday, and Jackson County increased its confirmed cases from one to two, according to the DPH.

Greene and Morgan counties each logged one case on Thursday, while Elbert, Walton and Oglethorpe continued to have no confirmed cases of coronavirus, the DPH said.

Barrow’s cases more than doubled the day after Barrow County Board of Commissioners Chairman Pat Graham Wednesday night signed a Declaration of Local Emergency that enacted certain restrictions on residents and businesses in an attempt to reduce person-to-person contacts that can spread the disease. The restrictions included the closing of all bars and limits gatherings of more than 10 people in public areas and private establishments if such gatherings require people to stand or be seated within six feet of each other. 

The measure, which took effect at noon Thursday, is similar to that which was taken last week by Athens-Clarke County commissioners. They unanimously approved an ordinance mandating the closure of all non-essential businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people. Athens restaurants are allowed to remain open, but only if they offer delivery or pick-up services.  The ordinance is designed to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the coronavirus by minimizing possible contacts with infected people.

Included in the 29 confirmed Athens-Clarke cases was that of a 67-year-old Athens man who had pre-existing medical problems and died Tuesday after testing positive for COVID-19, according to the DPH.

Also as of 7 p.m. Thursday, the DPH reported there were 1,643 confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide, with 56 deaths and 509 people hospitalized with the disease. Those numbers were starkly up from the 1,387 statewide confirmed cases, 38 deaths and 361 hospitalizations reported by the DPH in its Wednesday evening update.

The U.S. on Thursday became the hardest-hit country, when its 82,404 confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed China, where the pandemic is believed to have originated and had 81,782 cases as of Thursday evening.

There have been more than 1,000 COVID-19-related deaths in this country. Older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions like heart and lung disease or diabetes are at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 and should always consult their healthcare provider if they are sick. Long-term care facilities, nursing homes, and congregate living settings for older people must strictly follow COVID-19 prevention measures to stop rapid spread of the virus. The DPH stressed that all Georgians play a critical role in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 by adhering to the following guidance:

  • Practice social distancing by putting at least 6 feet between yourself and other people.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

  • Stay home if you are sick.

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