ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia’s death toll from the coronavirus jumped to 10 on Thursday as state health officials also reported a sizable increase in the number of confirmed infections statewide.
The update from Georgia Department of Public Health more than doubled the number of deaths in the state, which had stood at four Wednesday. The agency said confirmed coronavirus cases now total 287 – up from 197 the day before.
The health department did not specify where the new deaths occurred. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
While more than half the known infections were in metro Atlanta, confirmed cases and deaths continued to hit disproportionately hard in Dougherty County in southwest Georgia. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany reported four total deaths Thursday, with the state reporting 20 confirmed infections in the county of about 90,000 people.
Among the dead was a person who died from cardiac arrest en route to the hospital and later tested positive for the virus, said Dr. Steven Kitchen, the Albany hospital’s chief medical officer. Kitchen told a news conference that 24 of the hospital’s 38 intensive-care beds were occupied with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or are awaiting test results. He said more than 600 people in the area, the vast majority of them well enough to remain home, are awaiting test results.
“Most people seem to be experiencing rather mild symptoms at this point,” Kitchen said.
Officials in Albany and surrounding Dougherty County weren’t taking any chances. The mayor and county commission chairman announced a series of new restrictions set to take effect Friday that will last for at least a week.
Bars, theaters and bowling alleys will be closed countywide. Grocery stores and other retails will have to limit occupancy to 50 or fewer people at a time. Churches will be shuttered except for funerals and people will be barred from gatherings of 10 or more. And anyone confirmed to be infected or awaiting a test result will face misdemeanor charges if caught breaking quarantine.
“This is a very serious, serious matter,” said Chris Cohilas, chairman of the Dougherty County Commission. “We have seen already in this community how much this disease has been spread at gatherings at funerals and at church. And we cannot afford to be attacked anymore by that.”
In metro Atlanta, where Fulton County alone has reported 66 confirmed coronavirus infections. Neighboring Cobb County had 37 cases, the state’s second-highest total. Bartow County, another community with a fraction of Atlanta’s population, has had 26 cases confirmed.
Georgia has opened 13 drive-thru locations for coronavirus testing and plans more. Kemp cautioned that priority for tests was being given to those at highest risk – the elderly, people who already have chronic illnesses, those in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and first responders such as paramedics.
“Many Georgians are eager to be tested right now, but we need to be mindful of our resources,” Kemp said in a statement. “We have to be in this fight together.”
Meanwhile, state Sen. Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta Republican, announced he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness, sending Lt. Gov Geoff Duncan and Georgia’s other 55 state senators into self-quarantine. Duncan, a Republican, presides over the Senate.