Cautious optimism: COVID-19 leveling off in CSRA, expert says, but what about a fall wave?

Thursday, May 14, 2020
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

(Source: GA DPH)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- The leveling off of COVID-19 cases could even continue throughout the summer. But local health experts say while the numbers are encouraging, Augusta isn't in the clear just yet.

Counting looks a lot different these days for the coroner.

“It was scary because you didn’t know what to expect," Richmond County Coroner Mark Bowen said.

The mobile morgues ordered for local area hospitals still sit empty, and Bowen counts it as a blessing to not have to count deaths.

“We did not have to use it, so God blessed us with that," Bowen said.

“We are quite happy to never have had to use it," Dr. Phillip Coule, chief medical officer of AU Health, said. "And I hope we never have to now or anytime in the future.”

The local deaths can be traced mainly to nursing homes, not hospitals. But Coule says COVID-19 cases altogether seem to be leveling off.

“The reasons for that are a little bit unclear, but it may be what’s called 'a summer burnout,'" Coule said.

This means the warmer weather could be changing how fast the virus is spreading. This week, the big three hospitals reported fewer than 50 new cases. And by the end of April, the daily number of new positive cases dropped too.

Another factor: coronavirus testing has grown and expanded.

“We find a lot of individuals that test positive but had no symptoms at all, and that’s both reassuring and concerning," Dr. Coule said. "It helps remind us that we all have to act like we have it even if we don’t have symptoms.”

While there is no rapid spike, Coule says this data alone doesn't tell a complete story, arguing there could be thousands more positive people who are simply not getting tested.

“A testing bias is that the more people you test, the more positives you’re going to have -- or, said the other way -- 100 percent of the people you don't test are negative," Coule explained.

We crunched the numbers which show for the past two weeks, some days the numbers drop, other times, there's a slight uptick.

Either way, reported cases hover on the lower end, and hospitalized patients are fewer than before.

Coule calls it an encouraging outlook for our community.

“I would say at this point, I’m cautiously optimistic, and emphasis on cautious," Coule said.

Coule says with the warmer weather, Augusta could see a relatively normal summer. But he still has concerns about another virus wave in the fall.

Health experts are hoping to increase anti-body testing to gauge whether a large majority of people had the virus and not known it.

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