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What’s behind COVID-19 spike, what officials are doing about it, and how you can stay safe

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 6:00 AM EDT
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With coronavirus cases soaring in the two-state region on the verge of a holiday weekend, we checked with experts to see what you need to know as officials try to contain the new outbreak.

Among the most alarming new information: South Carolina has seen a 966% increase in newly reported cases among those ages 11 to 20 and 413% increase in those between 21 and 30. More and more of South Carolina’s positive cases are individuals who participated in group gatherings without keeping a safe distance from others or wearing masks, state officials warn.

On Monday, more than 2,000 new cases were reported in Georgia. That’s just shy of the state record set on Sunday. Cases are also on the rise in South Carolina, with more than 1,300 new cases and five more deaths reported.

What’s behind the spike in cases?

On Monday, more than 2,000 new cases were reported in Georgia. That’s just shy of the state record set on Sunday. Cases are also on the rise in South Carolina, with more than 1,300 new cases and five more deaths reported.

Health experts in the CSRA are weighing in on some of the reasons why.

Dr. Thomas Zickgraf of emergency medicine at Doctors Hospital in Augusta says the spike isn't happening because states reopened too soon.

Instead, it’s because many people have mistaken the relaxed restrictions as a sign the virus is gone.

More and more of South Carolina’s positive cases are individuals who participated in group gatherings without keeping a safe distance from others or wearing masks, state officials said Tuesday.

“The virus is rapidly spreading across the state, with some of the largest increases in our coastal communities,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control public health director. “We’ve all given so much for so long, and we all want to be at our beautiful beaches, at our parks, our friends’ houses, our block parties and community events but I’m asking all of us to stay vigilant in the fight against this deadly virus.” 

More young people are becoming infected now, with most positive cases in the 18- to 30-year-old group.

Dr. Bozeman Sherwood of primary care at University Hospital said many older people are still sheltering-in-place, while younger people tend to be more social.

And many of those younger people are asymptomatic carriers. And with a lack of symptoms, they may be getting false negative results if they’re tested for coronavirus.

“In addition to the disheartening  increases in young people transmitting the virus to their family and friends, new data indicate that asymptomatic people can spread the virus more easily than initially thought,” said Dr. Linda Bell, South Carolina state epidemiologist. “If you’ve tested positive but don’t have symptoms, it’s imperative that you complete your quarantine period in order to not spread the virus to others while you’re contagious.”

Sherwood said: “Whether you have symptoms or not, if it is that contagious — and it is — then you want to protect other people, too.”

What are officials doing about it?

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued two new executive orders as the region sees record-breaking coronavirus case numbers.

The first order extends the public health state of emergency to Aug. 11. It gives Kemp sweeping authority to take action or impose new restrictions to stop the spread.

The second order continues to require social distancing, bans gatherings of more than 50 people unless they're 6 feet apart and outlines restrictions for businesses. It also requires the medically fragile and those in long-term care facilities to continue to shelter in place. That order will run through at least July 15.

Kemp will visit the Augusta area later this week as part of a statewide tour to promote wearing face masks to curb the spread of coronavirus, his office confirmed. News 12 has asked for specifics such as date, time and location, and we’ll let you know what we learn.

What can you do about it?

With many people wanting to get out of the house and celebrate for the July Fourth weekend, health experts are warning to do it safely in light of the surge in coronavirus cases.

They're encouraging you to play it safe, wear a mask and keep your distance.

“It’s not a theoretical thing. I mean, this disease is still here. It hasn’t gone away, despite us relaxing these social distancing measures,” said Augusta University Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Phillip Coule.

He says it's not necessary to wear a mask on the beach — but it is if you go somewhere afterward.

“Probably the highest-risk setting in a typical vacation activity would be going to a bar or restaurant, and that certainly is the greatest risk,” Coule said.

So, when enjoying the holiday weekend, or going to protests or to the store or even just taking a walk, experts still say it’s best to keep your distance, wear a mask and wash your hands.

What’s ahead for us?

Because of the holiday weekend, health officials are expecting to see cases of coronavirus spike even more.

That’s a concern with hospital beds already filling up across the two-state region as COVID-19 cases rise in Georgia and South Carolina.

In South Carolina, more than 70% of hospital beds are full of patients, and in Aiken County, nearly 50% of beds are occupied.

Across the river in Georgia, data shows a 25% jump in hospitalizations in just one week.

By the News 12 staff, including Sydney Heiberger, Tradesha Woodard and Brady Trapnell

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