Georgia COVID-19 deaths hit 3-month low, as reopening belies predicted health catastrophe

Cases have continued to increase while deaths have plummeted.

Published: June 30, 2020 11:54am

Updated: June 30, 2020 5:23pm

The state of Georgia has reached a three-month low in its number of recorded coronavirus deaths, roughly two months after the state began to lift its lockdown restrictions amid sharp criticism that a too-hasty reopening would result in widespread fatalities.

The state's COVID-19 dashboard shows a seven-day running average of about 15.3 deaths per day as of June 15. The state's moving average has not been that low since March 28. (The posted average has continued to decline since June 15, though the state cautions that data within the last 14 days may be updated as more cases and deaths are reported.)

The average number of daily deaths in the state has been on a marked decline for over two months, since it peaked on April 22 at an average of 43 deaths a day.

Those low and continuously declining figures have defied earlier predictions that the state, which began reopening its economy on April 24, would soon see surging coronavirus numbers accompanied by a spiraling death rate. 

Cases have jumped noticeably in Georgia since reopening — the seven-day average of confirmed cases is now just over 1,000, up from 736 when the state began reopening. But reported deaths have persistently declined over that time.

The state's total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients is also sharply down from April 24, when it listed a 4,221 people in state hospitals. The number as of Monday was 1,359, though hospitalizations have been on a slow rise since around June 10 after bottoming out at around 800.

The state's declining death numbers could point to several likely conclusions: The virus itself may have mutated and become less deadly, as numerous scientists have argued; the disease may be infecting lower age demographics in the state with better chances of recovery, as has been observed elsewhere; or state residents may be practicing strict hygiene and "social distancing" rules even as the state continues to re-open. 

Public health experts and commentators caution that hospitalizations and deaths lag reported cases by two to three weeks, meaning Georgia's relatively good fatality rate could reverse in the near future. Yet the state began seeing an uptick in cases about five weeks ago, even as the deaths there continued their already-steady decline. 

Though case increases have alarmed other state governors into reinstituting some lockdown measures shortly after they were lifted, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp — who in April was accused of being the United States's "dumbest governor" over his reopening plans — has largely stayed the course.

This week he extended a state of emergency in Georgia until August, but he did not issue any rollbacks of the state's reopening process. 

Kemp's office, meanwhile, said he would not be imposing a statewide mask mandate there as governors of other states have done. 

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