Labor Day and the impending flu season are giving health officials cause for concern amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
First signs of what would become a global pandemic surfaced late last year, but it did not become obvious until March that the severe and highly contagious flu-like virus had spread to the United States. Some cities and towns in Georgia experienced major outbreaks early on, but cases of coronavirus were rare in Glynn County and the surrounding area until Memorial Day.
Festivities in the tourism-centric Golden Isles triggered a surge in cases that put Glynn County on the map as a COVID-19 hotspot. Cases have continued to trend downward, with the exception of a much smaller spike after Independence Day.
“A lot of things were loosened up around Memorial Day, and then by July 4 (Glynn County was) really spiking and people were telling folks to mind their business and wear their mask, and then it started coming back down,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, director of the Coastal Health District.
Both temporary jumps in case numbers correlated precisely with what health officials expected, Davis said. A small increase in cases typically heralds a coming surge in COVID-19 diagnoses.
“Somewhere six to eight to 10 days afterward, the results come rolling in,” he said. “The later surge will be anywhere from three weeks to six to eight weeks afterward. The reason is those who are acutely affected will each go out and infect two or four or 10 people and you get into an exponential cycle.”
On Memorial Day, almost three months into the outbreak in Georgia, 87 cases and one death due to the disease had been reported. The number of cases nearly doubled over the next two weeks and rose to over 500 in the next month, while three more deaths were reported.
As of 3 p.m. Thursday, nearly three months later, the number of cases had risen to 3,119, including 77 deaths.
Things were looking better at Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick hospital, which was caring for 30 COVID-positive inpatients as of 4 p.m. Thursday, much reduced from the post-holiday spike. The hospital in St. Marys had 10 inpatients Thursday.
The pattern of spikes could easily repeat following Labor Day, Davis said. The fact that a larger spike in COVID cases did not follow Independence Day is encouraging, he said, but should not cause one to stop following recommended safety guidelines.
“Due to the highly contagious nature of coronavirus, it is possible for there to be another surge in our communities if large gatherings take place and people lower their guard,” said Michael Scherneck, president and CEO of SGHS.
Residents should continue to wear masks, keep six feet of distance from others, regularly wash their hands and stay home if they feel sick.
“Coronavirus spreads from person to person by respiratory droplets which means that, in addition to sneezing and coughing, when you’re laughing or talking to others, singing at church or cheering while watching sports, you can be spreading the virus,” Scherneck said. “It is for this reason that we continue to reiterate the importance of wearing a face covering, maintaining social distancing wherever possible and practicing good hand hygiene.”
Glynn County’s seven-day rolling average of new cases and daily cases per 100,000, both significant metrics when measuring the rate at which the disease spreads, are continuing to trend downward, Davis said. It’s good news but still well above what is considered ideal.
Other metrics indicate the disease is still too widespread for schools to reopen without at least some students contracting it.
“Many states have already experienced an increase in positive cases due to large parties, social events and the schools reopening,” Scherneck said. “The virus can impact people of all ages, and it is extremely important that each member of our community recognize that they can contract the virus and, if they become infected, even if they are asymptomatic, they can pass it to their families and friends.”