On Friday, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale Health Departments District Health Director Dr. Audrey Arona offered her sternest warning so far about the need for following guidelines designed to halt the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

Gwinnett continues to see daily increases of several hundred new reports of confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, although Fulton County overtook it on Wednesday to have the largest total of cases of Georgia county. On Friday, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency reported Gwinnett saw a one-day increase of 359 new cases. The day before that, on Thursday, GEMHSA reported a one-day increase of 343 new cases in Gwinnett.

Arona said it is clear that there is only one way to stop the spread of the disease: Everyone has to follow the guidelines laid out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials.

“The more we congregate and don’t social distance and don’t wear masks, and all that, it’s just going to continue to spread,” Arona said. “That’s why our message is ‘Please social distance and wear masks.’ If we could just engage the public to do that, it would really halt these numbers.

“I don’t know how to get the message clearer than that to the public because we really could stop this spread of this virus (that causes COVID-19) if everybody would stay six-feet from each other and wear a mask and stay home if you’re not feeling well, stay away from other people who are ill and wash your hands. They’re very simple things.”

As of Friday afternoon, Gwinnett had seen a total of 14,801 reported cases, 213 deaths and 1,758 hospitalizations. The county has also had an incidence rate of 1,524.08 cases for every 100,000 residents.

The median age of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Gwinnett is 38 while the median age of people testing positive for the disease across the entire Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale health district is 39, according to the district health director.

Arona and other health officials have repeatedly stressed that there is no particularly spot in the county to which Gwinnettians should assume all of the cases are being confined.

“We have just consistently seen what we’ve expected in that we have widespread community transmission,” Arona said.

Statewide, there had been a total of 161,401 COVID-19 cases have been seen in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. The state has also seen 3,442 deaths, 16,752 hospitalizations and 3,119 ICU admissions.

But, Arona said the daily increases seen in Gwinnett and across the state can be deceptive because of backlogs of tests being processed at labs. She explained it can take about five to seven days to get the results from a test administered by the health departments reported.

For a test conducted elsewhere, such as a retail pharmacy, it could take somewhere in the neighborhood of two weeks, Arona said.

That means at least some of the positive cases that are showing up in the totals each day are people who were tested at least one to two weeks earlier.

“The last two weeks of any curve — if you’re looking at a curve, the right hand part of the curve for two weeks you really kind of have to not even consider that part of the curve because you really don’t have accurate data (about the current COVID-19 situation),” Arona said.

Similarly, new deaths that show up in the figures each day are people who died days earlier, but it took time to get test results back to confirm the person had COVID-19.

Gwinnett is third in the state in total COVID-19-related deaths, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“When deaths are reported to us, we have to investigate them, and we have to clean the data more or less because sometimes you know a person is reported positive three moths ago, but yet they die of congestive heart failure now and somebody would report that as a COVID-19 death,” Arona said.

“So, that’s why the number changes sometimes up, sometimes down, as we clean the data because that would not be considered a COVID-19 death. But again, sometimes these reports come in and the actual date of the death was two weeks ago. We just have to be careful that when the positives drop, that we don’t say all of those deaths occurred on that one day.”

As of Friday, Fulton County leads the state in cases with 15,221 cases all together. It has also had 365 deaths, 1,585 hospitalizations and an incidence rate of 1,384.76 cases for every 100,000 residents.

DeKalb County has had the third highest number of cases in the state (10,767 cases, 204 deaths), followed by Cobb County (9,717 cases, 282 deaths) and Hall County (4,789 cases, 70 deaths).

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I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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