Georgia to ramp up Covid-19 testing, release non-violent inmates in response to pandemic
Tuesday produced a couple of major developments in Georgia’s battle with Covid-19.
First was an announcement from Governor Brian Kemp that the state is about to ramp its Covid-19 testing capability up to about 3,000 per day. This is obviously good news. Georgia has lagged nearly all its neighboring states in Covid-19 testing, and it hasn’t been clear where in Georgia the testing has — and has not — been taking place.
As of today’s mid-day report from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Covid-19 has been found in 139 of the state’s 159 counties, and the remaining 20 are all rural counties scattered across the state. Within a few days, maybe a week, the expanded testing should tell us a great deal more about how deeply the virus has penetrated the state’s sparsely populated rural counties.
Governor Kemp and others have pointed hopefully to the lack of positive tests in rural counties and used that data as a rationale for not taking more aggressive action to limit large group gatherings or order business closings across the state. But public health experts fear that posture may only have given the virus time to get a quiet foothold in the state’s rural regions.
The Georgia Recorder is up today with an excellent story about this danger, including an interview with Dr. Isaac Chun-Hai Fung, associate professor of epidemiology at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. From the story:
“If we have an outbreak, our risk is actually higher than Atlanta,” he said. “The risk of us not having adequate health care and, therefore, the old people dying, is higher than Atlanta. We have a lower risk of getting infected because we don’t have as many cases in our neighborhood, but unfortunately, having an outbreak … our rural hospital very soon would be overwhelmed, and people who do not have intensive care units or do not have ventilators to keep them breathing, they will die. And Atlanta is too far away for us. Even Savannah is an hour away.”
The second major announcement, also reported by the AJC, came from the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. As part of its response to the Coronavirus epidemic, it’s decided to release up to 200 inmates who are serving time for non-violent offenses.
The state’s 30-plus prisons, as well as jails in virtually every county, were identified early on as potential breeding grounds for the virus, and, as the AJC reported, one inmate at the Lee State Prison, in Lee County just north of Albany, has already died of Covid-19.
Last week, Bartow County Sheriff Clark Millsap announced he was releasing 90 inmates from his county jail because of the virus, according to The Daily Tribune News, the local newspaper.
Left unanswered in the AJC story and the Daily Tribune story was the question of whether the inmates would be tested for the virus before they were freed from jail and sent back into the community.
Finally, a quick update of Georgia’s Covid-19 performance compared to its neighboring states:
As was the case yesterday, the key takeaways are that Georgia leads the region in Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations even as it lags in testing. With just under 18 percent of the six-state region’s population, Georgia has recorded 43 percent of the Covid-19 deaths even though it’s conducted only 11.9 percent of the total tests. Even with the smallest set of test numbers, its Covid-19 infection and mortality rates are the highest in the region.
The original version of this table, published late yesterday afternoon, proved to be fairly popular. Typically, even a major Trouble in God’s Country post won’t draw more than a few hundred visitors, if that. Yesterday’s post attracted more than 500 visitors last night and another then 1,200-plus from more than 30 countries today. I’ll try to keep updating it at least periodically.